Mucus May Be The Body’s Underappreciated Protective Shield 

Natural fluid acts as biological fly paper to harmful bacteria

DAYTON, Ohio (January 15, 2019) – The next time you want to curse the mucus that is building up from a cold or allergic reaction, take a deep breath and be thankful for it instead.

Mucus is a natural fluid that is made up of water, proteins, salt, enzymes and antibodies. The average person will produce about one to one and a half liters of mucus each day. It serves as a protective blanket on a person’s delicate tissues and helps keep them from drying out. 

“It also acts as a biological sort of fly paper – trapping unwanted dust, bacteria and allergens so that the body stays healthy,” said Sarah Neal, a nurse practitioner with Phillipsburg Family Care.

Mucus is produced by the body’s mucus membranes in various parts of the body including its sinuses, throat, mouth, lungs and gastrointestinal tract. 

Mucus in the body’s nose filters up to 80 percent of particles that flow through it when a person breathes. Meanwhile, tiny hairs called cilia in the nose and lungs move mucus toward the throat.

Usually, mucus quietly does its job throughout the body helping organs to run smoothly and stay healthy. It’s when mucus kicks into overdrive that it starts to feel like a nuisance to a person.

The body can produce an overabundance of mucus when it has an allergic reaction. Symptoms such as a runny nose and watery eyes are typical when the body is having a histamine response. The body’s membranes become engorged and often require the right medication to help “turn off the tap so the fluid will stop leaking out,” said Ms. Neal, who practices with Premier Physician Network.

Mucus caused by illness instead of a histamine response, is usually thicker and can get stuck, requiring a decongestant.

“What you need in that case is something that will help reduce the blood flow to the membranes,” Ms. Neal said.

The following are important points to remember about mucus.

Don’t judge it by its color – The color and consistency of mucus offers clues as to what’s happening in the body, but it can’t be counted on to clearly indicate whether the body is fighting a bacterial or viral infection. Ms. Neal said research has shown that up to 40 percent of green mucus and 55 percent of yellow mucus contains no bacteria. The color actually comes from the enzymes inside the mucus that’s fighting off the infection.

Let it do its job – Mucus is an important tool with which the body fights infection. Allow it time to do its work and consult with a health care provider as to how it should best be managed. Ms. Neal said it is a common misconception that an overabundance of mucus – especially the type that is green or yellow – should automatically be treated with an antibiotic. This is not always the case and, if wrongly treated with antibiotics, could lead to antibiotic resistance down the road. 

Get rid of it when you can – When your body becomes overrun with mucus, you can blow it out, spit out or swallow it. Any method is fine since the stomach neutralizes bacteria carried by mucus and does its part to remove other waste lodged in the sticky substances from the body.

Know when it’s serious – Chest congestion that is caused by mucus and comes on suddenly and severely should be evaluated by a health care provider. Chest congestion that is accompanied by a fever and lasts for more than a week or so, as well as mucus that is rust colored can signal something serious such as pneumonia. 

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