Mucus is disgusting. It is usually not something you want to discuss in polite company; however, it is something that you need to understand to better deal with health issues in which they play an important role.
Unless you have an insanely robust immune system, you probably get hit with a case of the common cold at least once a year. This is usually accompanied by a chesty cough. As it happens, mucus plays quite the lead role in both these conditions.
Whether it’s stuffing up your nose or pooling in your throat, it’s mucus that your body produced for a reason. Mucus may seem bothersome to you, but the fact of the matter is that, without it, you wouldn’t be alive.
What Is Mucus?
Mucus is one of your body’s protective tools. It creates a barrier, allowing you to breathe easily. This may seem the opposite of what you know since when you typically have a hard time breathing, it’s mucus that’s clogging up your airways, making it difficult for you to breathe.
You only ever get to notice mucus when it’s thick, but it’s always there. The sticky, gelatinous substance is ever-present in your body and not just when you’re sick.
Mucus is essentially a mix of water and proteins. It functions as a filter and as a lubricant. You unconsciously swallow it all the time and it harmlessly ends up in your stomach. Whatever you don’t get to swallow keeps your airways moist, allowing them to work properly.
Runny Mucus vs. Thick Mucus
The mucus in your nose is balanced with water secretions called serous fluid. When the balance is maintained, you won’t notice the presence of mucus. When the balance is disturbed, then you’ll experience mucus-related symptoms indicating a health issue.
An excess in watery secretions or serous fluids will have your nose running, while insufficient watery secretions lead to thick mucus that is characteristic of congestion. As a rule, people tend to be bothered more by thick mucus than the runny version and consequently consult their doctor more regarding it.
Confronted with congestion, the usual remedy is a decongestant, which shrinks the swelling in your nose. It has been observed, however, that a cough expectorant can be even more helpful. This increases the secretion of serous fluid, diluting the mucus, allowing it to flow and clear your airways.
Lower Airways Mucus
As mentioned, your body produces mucus all the time, about six cups of it every day. It comes not just from your nose, but from the trachea and other tubes that get air through your lungs.
Mucus helps protect your lungs by acting like flypaper, capturing dirt, dust, and other debris that you inhale, and then allowing them to pass out of your system. When you swallow, they get pulled down to your stomach and then destroyed by enzymes in there.
When your mucus is discolored by whatever is in the air you breathe (smoke, smog, etc.), it means that it’s simply doing its job.
What Is Phlegm?
Mucus produced along your lower airways in response to inflammation is called phlegm. You’ll sense its presence and know that something’s wrong.
You typically respond to the issue by coughing. It’s your body’s natural reflex to try and expel the phlegm where germs live and thrive away from your lungs.
A chesty cough characterized by phlegm may be caused by a simple viral infection like the common cold or the flu, but it may also be a symptom of a graver condition such as bronchitis or pneumonia.
When you have a productive cough, you might see that your phlegm has a green or yellow color. While this may indicate infection, it doesn’t always mean a serious health problem.
The time to worry is when your phlegm suggests the presence of blood, so watch out for the colors pink, red, or brown. Seek medical attention when they’re evident.
Without mucus, your body is in serious trouble. Thankfully, it makes more than a quart a day. Understanding its role and how it works will allow you to view your stuffy nose, chesty cough, or whatever bothersome mucus-related symptom you may be experiencing and address it accordingly.