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Here's what the colour of your snot really means

Yes, it’s disgusting, but that gooey stuff coming from your nose is trying to tell you something.

VERY FEW PEOPLE talk about these things, but let’s break that taboo.

About nine months ago, after I got a very bad cold, the mucus in my nose turned green. This was normal, I thought, because I was sick.

But now, nearly a year later, it’s still green.

After realising I’d also been coming down with many more colds than usual, I finally went to a doctor. He put a scope up my nose and concluded that I’d been suffering from a chronic, low-grade sinus infection that whole time. And I didn’t even know it.

The mucus in your nose serves many functions. Its colour can tell you and your doctor a lot about what’s going on in your body — especially when it’s been an abnormal shade for a long time.

Here are a few of those things, sourced mainly from this Cleveland Clinic infographic and the Centers for Disease Control. You should know, however, that snot colour is not enough to diagnose anything outright. Still, it offers a unique glimpse into your body’s strange ways of telling you that something’s up.

Source: Skye Gould/Tech Insider

Clear mucus is totally normal. The body naturally produces about 1.5 quarts of it every day — enough to fill a Breyer’s ice cream container. It keeps your nasal passages lubricated and germ-free by acting as a moisturising barrier against dehydration and foreign objects, including bacteria and viruses. But if the amount drastically increases, it could mean that you’re suffering from allergies or the start of a cold or flu.

Source: Skye Gould/Tech Insider

White mucus could mean a bunch of different things. Most often it means that your nasal passages are irritated and swollen, restricting mucus flow and causing it to dry out. This could be due to a nasal infection or a cold. But dairy products, allergies, and eating dehydrating foods such as coffee, tea, and alcohol can also turn your mucus white. Acid reflux or dry conditions may also be the culprit.

Source: Skye Gould/Tech Insider

When you have an infection, whether it be a bacteria or virus, your immune system’s white blood cells rush to the site to fight and destroy the pathogenic invader. After they’ve done their job and die, they’re flushed out of your body with your mucus, and in the process can dye it yellow. Yellow mucus doesn’t mean that you need antibiotics, but it means your body is fighting something; possibly a cold. At this point, you may want to wait it out and see if things don’t improve after 10 to 14 days.

Source: Skye Gould/Tech Insider

Your mucus can turn green from the even larger build up of dead white blood cells. This potentially means that your body is using many reinforcements to fight the infection, and perhaps it’s losing the battle. This is especially true if your mucus has been green for a few weeks or longer. If that’s the case, you should see your doctor; especially if you have a fever or feel nauseated.

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Source: Skye Gould/Tech Insider

Bloody mucus signals that there’s a lot going on in your nasal passages, including dryness and irritation, and the tissues have become damaged. This results from any number of things, including allergies, infection, and lots of blowing or rubbing. Physical trauma — like walking into a wall, face-first — can also turn your snot red.

Source: Skye Gould/Tech Insider

When blood from your nasal lining dries, it can mix with the mucus and turn brown. But brown mucus isn’t always because of blood. It could also be dirt, dust, discoloration from cigarette smoke, snuff, or a spice. If you’re coughing up brown mucus, though, you should see a doctor because this could be a sign of bronchitis.

Source: kye Gould/Tech Insider

Black mucus can materialise after inhaling dirt or dust; or after smoking cigarettes or marijuana. But it can also signal a serious fungal infection, especially if you have a compromised immune system. If your mucus is black for no obvious reason, you should see a doctor. This is especially true if you have a fever, chills, or have difficulty breathing.

- Julia Calderone and Skye Gould.

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