Here’s how to decode those seasonal sniffles.
If you have a runny nose, your first instinct is probably to grab a tissue, blow, and throw that sucker away. But for the sake of your health, you might want to add one more step to that process: Checking the color of your snot.
As unglamourous as that sounds, the color of your boogers can reveal a lot about what’s going on inside your body—and why you have a runny nose in the first place.
Your body produces about one and a half quarts of mucus every day and for a very important reason: It protects protects your nose and sinuses from foreign invaders that could make you sick, such as dust and bacteria.
If you blow your nose and see nothing but transparent liquid, you’re probably in the clear. Healthy snot has no color. Seasonal allergies may also produce clear-colored discharge. (Here’s how to know if your runny nose is due to a cold or seasonal allergies.)
Boogers not clear? Here’s what it could mean:
White, yellow or green mucus could mean the common cold or viral or bacterial sinusitis (sinus swelling).
White mucus could mean you have an infection brewing. When your nasal tissues are swollen or inflamed, mucus production slows down which causes it to lose moisture. This can lead it to have a white, cloudy color.
Yellow mucus means the infection has taken hold and your white blood cells, which help your body fight infections, are hard at work. After they’ve done their job, they get a tired and turn an ochre color, which is the yellow hue you see in your boogers.
Green mucus means your body is really fighting hard. The green hue comes from a collection of dead white blood cells and other waste products. If your illness lasts more than 12 days, see a doctor. You could have bacterial sinusitis and need antibiotics.
Pink or red mucus usually means the nasal tissue has become broken and your mucus is bloody. Have you been picking your nose? This usually resolves itself, but if your nose won’t stop bleeding, see a doctor.
Brown mucus could mean dried blood, or maybe dirt.
Black mucus could come from smoking cigarettes, but it could also be a symptom of a serious fungal infection. If you’re not a smoker and you see black snot, it’s wise to see a doctor as soon as possible.
If you see a change in your booger color, don’t fret: Most nose woes aren’t serious. Still, it pays to know your nose.
Eager to learn more about what different bodily function colors can reveal about your health? Click here to learn what clues your poop hue can reveal about your health, and here to learn what certain pee colors say about your health.
Common Cold and Runny Nose. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Accessed on November 7, 2018 at https://www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/community/for-patients/common-illnesses/colds.html)
Nosebleeds (epistaxis) (Beyond the Basics). UpToDate. (Accessed on November 7, 2018 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/nosebleeds-epistaxis-beyond-the-basics)
The common cold in adults (Beyond the Basics). UpToDate. (Accessed on November 7, 2018 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/the-common-cold-in-adults-beyond-the-basics)
Etiologies of nasal symptoms: An overview. UpToDate. (Accessed on November 7, 2018 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/etiologies-of-nasal-symptoms-an-overview)
Nonallergic rhinitis (runny or stuffy nose) (Beyond the Basics). UpToDate. (Accessed on November 7, 2018 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/nonallergic-rhinitis-runny-or-stuffy-nose-beyond-the-basics)