What is Your Snot Telling You?

The color of snot: Man with tissue in his nose

Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall, it seems like there’s always a seasonal affliction that can affect your nasal cavity. If you think of your sinuses as a painter’s easel, then your mucus could be a range of colors. Those colors could signify what—and how—your body is using your snot to fight off sickness or responding to irritation.

First things first. If you got bopped on the nose and you’re seeing red when you use a tissue, even a few days later, it’s likely still the result of the initial impact. If it has been several weeks, or even months and your snot is still tinged red or brown (indicating dried blood), then it would be a prudent decision to seek medical attention.

The meaning behind the color of snot

There’s a long list of things that can wreck your sinuses in the colder months of the year. Flu and sinusitis (that’s a sinus infection) can turn your snot any unappealing shade from yellow to dark green and are generally the most common sicknesses that so obviously affect the color of your mucus.

And don’t think you’re out of the woods as it starts to warm up. Virtually every part of the country is affected by varying pollen levels during the spring bloom. This can also trigger the histamines that create what immunologist and allergist William Culver, MD with the Banner Health Clinic in Loveland, Colorado, called a “voluminous” clear runny nose.

“Airborne pollinated trees, grass, weeds—even growth in a highway median several miles away—can all cause this type of uncontrollable runny nose,” he said. “The wind can carry allergens far distances and still have an effect.”

The color of snot: Blue box of tissuesThis can last well into summertime, especially as summer rains and moisture nourish new blooms in the surrounding flora. This can also set off the histamines in humans that cause an allergic reaction.

Summertime can also cause pain and irritation in the nasal cavity, especially in areas where moisture in the air is incredibly low. Combined with the heavy use of air conditioning in the summer months, this can seriously dry your nasal passages out, which makes them much more susceptible to irritation and bleeding.

And do you notice a runny nose as a sudden cold or warm snap sweeps through your area?

Dr. Culver said that even going in and out of an air-conditioned room to a significantly warmer or colder outdoor environment can create a runny or irritated nose.

Tips for a happy nose

If you view it as a revolving door, there’s really always something in the year to set off nasal and sinus irritation and the disgusting results that we get when we blow our noses. But don’t worry!

Here are a few tips to keep what we would consider the optimal color of snot—that is, clear and transparent, and in minimal amounts—in your tissues.

  • Stay hydrated
  • Use a humidifier to soothe dryness (sparingly)
  • Clear out stuffiness and allergens with saline and neti pots
  • Don’t smoke
  • Keep exposure to blowing dust and contaminants to a minimum

Dr. Culver also stressed the importance of wearing a mask during outdoor chores such as lawn mowing, operating a leaf blower or other tasks that may kick up dirt and debris in order to best help mitigate their effect on your sinuses.

With these quick takeaways, make sure to listen to your body and stay aware of any changes or new sensations when it comes to your sinuses—and your snot. Knowing what your snot is telling you can become a valuable insight for how your body is reacting to the season or to sickness.

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