Want To Know What The Color Of Your Snot Means? Here Are A Few Clues

We tend to be a bit obsessed with our noses. It is hard not to be when they are right there in front of us all the time. When they aren't working right, nothing seems to work right. Whether we want to or not we tend to check the tissue after we've blown -- possibly to see if any brain matter came out with a really hard blow. Okay, that really isn't possible, but the color of what you see could be telling you something.

Gotta Blow! (Photo by mcfarlandmo/Creative Commons via Wikimedia)Gotta Blow! (Photo by mcfarlandmo/Creative Commons via Wikimedia)

I used to have a doctor who told me that the color of snot doesn't really mean anything. I didn't quite believe her and now I know that this does mean something. Like most people I like to know any simple health indicators that can help me manage the care of this old meat suit I'm wearing. It is not necessarily earth shaking for the most part, but there is meaning in that there mucus.

So here is the nasal appraisal:

Clear means that you are just that -- clear and normal. We produce it 24/7 (up to 2 quarts of it!) but most of it drains down our throats so we don't really notice it much. Plain mucus is mostly water with a few proteins, antibodies, and salts in it. Chances are that this also includes trace amounts of allergens and polluttants.

White means that you are congested. Your nasal tissues are inflamed and swollen and your snout is showing the signs. Those tissues are slowing the flow of mucus which is causing the discharge to dry out and become cloudy. This could be allergies, or it could mean that a cold or nasal infection is trying to move in.

Yellow tells you that your cold or infection has moved in for the duration. This is a sign that your infection-fighting cells are most likely taking up the fight against those nasty little microbes. Once they are spent they are washed out of your body with the nasal mucus. This gives it that ochre hue. You should be starting supportive care here.

Green means that your immune system is really in there fighting the good fight. Your mucus is thick with the debris from the battle. If it doesn't start clearing after a week or so you want to go to the doctor. If the mean green is accompanied by a fever or nausea you should go to the doctor right away. 

Pink or red means blood. This could be caused by injury or excessive dryness and cracking of the tissue. You haven't been excavating around in there, have you?

Where No Man Admits To Going (Photo via Carlos Paes/Creative Commons via Wikimedia)Where No Man Admits To Going (Photo via Carlos Paes/Creative Commons via Wikimedia)

Brown could be blood, but it is more likely to be something inhaled -- like dirt, snuff, or spices.

Black (ewwww) could mean a fungal infection unless you are a smoker or taking illegal drugs. Unless you are already being treated -- GO TO THE DOCTOR!

The truth is that doctors don't use these colors as a primary method of diagnosis, but they may ask if they need more information about what is happening. The request is most likely to come from allergists.

The real problem with any color other than the clear stuff is that we start getting miserable. Doctors recommend saline sprays and washes to help flush things out. Neti pots (my fave) are also a good option. The one warning is that some doctors advise against using tap water to make your own neti pot solution because of the remote possibility of contracting an infection from bad water.

The last bit of trivia here is that when your nose starts leaking on a cold day it isn't snot -- or not much. It is your breath condensing inside your nasal passages and then draining. So it is mostly just water.

So there you have the 411 on your snout and its snot.

Sources: IFL Science, WebMD