|Can I say snot in the paper?
You prefer mucus? Fine.
You and I both know that it comes out of your head at the most inconvenient times – that is to say anytime.
We all know that we have snot. We just prefer not to be aware of it.
And we really don’t care to be aware of anyone else’s snot.
Of course moms, dads and grandparents have become accustomed to wiping the noses of our infants and toddlers. But hearing the honking of anyone else is annoying.
Well, brace yourself. This week’s column is about interpreting mucus.
Come on, admit it. You have looked in that tissue or handkerchief just like everyone else to check out the consistency, volume and color of your nasal discharge. If not, you should.
What does it mean if it is yellow, or green? Does that mean an infection? Bacteria or virus? Red? Brown?
Mucus is secreted by glands within your respiratory system to rid the air passages of dust and debris. It also protects those tissues from the disease-promoting bacteria and viruses that you breathe in. It also provides a protective layer of moisture to the delicate tissues.
Now that you think about it, don’t you appreciate snot a little more. Unless sponsored by Kleenex, I don’t expect to see a National Snot Appreciation Day anytime soon though.
Even though this viscous material is one of our main defense mechanisms that keeps us from succumbing to every bacteria and virus we inhale, it will continue to be considered a vile consequence of living to most.
Back to the interpretation of the color of our mucus. What does it mean when the normally clear to milky white substance is a different color?
Many readers will immediately recall that they have heard that green or yellow mucus means bacterial infection and antibiotics are needed.
Recent research indicates that is not necessarily the case.
The green color comes from an enzyme present in immune cells called neutrophils. So the fact that these cells are on the job may indicate that your body has launched a defense to fight an infection – bacterial or viral.
However, recent studies have shown people with yellow or green mucus discharge who took antibiotics did not get well any faster than people with similar mucus color that did not take antibiotics.
In another study, green mucus was tested negative for bacteria 41 percent of the time and yellow mucus tested negative for bacteria 54 percent or the time.
The presence of yellow or green coloration is not a reliable indicator of the presence of bacteria and so is not an indication that antibiotics are required.
If there is a viral infection, such as the common cold, antibiotics will not be of use.
If you have been told to watch and wait by your doctor, he or she may suggest you try over the counter medications to find relief.
Antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine, the active ingredient in Benadryl and countless other cold and allergy products, can reduce the volume of mucus produced. Side effects, like drowsiness, can be a problem for some.
Newer antihistamines such as fexofenadine (Allegra), loratadine (Claritin) or certirizine (Zyrtec) may be recommended. The newer products typically cause less drowsiness.
To thin the mucus to make it easier to clear the air canals, a product called guaifenesin can be helpful. This is the active ingredient in Mucinex and many cough preparations.
Decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine are sometimes used, but can cause a rebound effect. These products constrict the blood vessels in the nose and sinuses and as well as the bronchial tubes. This can reduce swelling and inflammation, allowing the passageways to feel clearer. But this can also lead to thicker mucus secretions, worsening the overall problem.
All of these medications are readily available, but all can cause mild to serious side effects.
One of the best and least expensive remedies for excess mucus production is a simple saline nasal rinse such as a neti-pot or a new squeeze bottle product from NeilMed that flushes the nasal passages with warm saline solution. This clears the air pathways and has no medication side effects.