Our Bodies: Magnificent Mucus-Making Machines

On any given day, our bodies can make about 1 to 1.5 liters of mucus, which is a natural fluid full of enzymes and antibodies.

Our mucus is a normal body fluid that protects our delicate tissues from drying out. 

“Mucus also acts as a biological sort of fly paper, trapping unwanted dust, bacteria and allergens so we stay healthy,” says Family Nurse Practitioner Sarah Neal, of Phillipsburg Family Care, part of Premier Physician Network.

Mucus membranes create the mucus in your body. The mucus lines your sinuses, throat, mouth, lungs and gastrointestinal tract.

If you’re having an allergic reaction to something, you could end up with a runny nose because your body starts making too much mucus. 

“Taking an antihistamine … helps turn the tap off so that you don’t have all of that fluid leaking out,” Neal says.

When you’re sick, your mucus can become thicker and get stuck. 

A decongestant can help keep it flowing instead of letting the congestion build up.

Sometimes, mucus can take on a yellow or greenish color, which Neal says could mean you have an infection. 

“But actually, research shows that 40 percent of green mucus and 55 percent of yellow mucus is without bacteria,” she says. “The color comes from enzymes inside the mucus itself fighting off the bacteria.”

So while it might seem like discolored mucus is a sure sign you need antibiotics, that isn’t always the case. 

“It’s difficult because people feel like they should have an antibiotic any time that their mucus is colored, and that’s just not what research shows,” Neal says. “The body is already dealing with it, and that’s why the color is there.”

Mucus that leads to chest congestion – especially if it comes on suddenly – is another story. 

Painful congestion, high fever, congestion lasting more than a couple weeks or rust colored mucus are all reasons to pay a visit to your health care provider.

Source: Family Nurse Practitioner Sarah Neal, Phillipsburg Family Care