Health Topics

Healthy Living

october 2010
The Murky World of Mucus
Dr. Sanjeev Gupta
Is your head really filled to the brim with mucus, like your spouse always taunts? Read this article for peace in the family.

Mucus, to start with, is a slippery substance produced by the mucous membranes lining the mouth, nose, sinuses, throat, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract. It acts as a protective blanket over the surfaces of mouth, nose, sinuses etc, preventing the tissue underneath from drying out. Viscosity of the mucus protects the sensitive airway of our body, as it acts like a filter paper, trapping unwanted substances like bacteria and dust present in the environment. Mucus contains:
  • Antibodies, that help the body recognise invaders like bacteria and viruses
  • Enzymes, that kill the invaders it traps
  • Proteins, to make the mucus sticky and stringy and very inhospitable
  • A variety of cells, among other things
Noticing the Mucus
The healthy body produces about one to one-and-a-half litres of mucus every day! Most of that mucus trickles down the throat and one doesn’t even notice it (thankfully). We notice our mucus, not because we are producing more of it, but when it becomes thicker. It generally takes a bad cold, allergy, or infection to throw our body's mucus production into overdrive.

Mucus isn't always perfectly clear. It may be yellow, green, or have a reddish or brownish tinge. The colour may not be always due to infection. Green colour is sometimes produced by the enzymes of the white blood cells in response to allergy. However, watch out when your mucus takes a green hue when you have other symptoms like fever and congestion – it could indicate infection.

Full-filling Feeling
When nasal stuffiness is associated with common cold or allergies, it doesn't allow the sinuses to drain properly. Bacteria may be trapped inside the sinuses, leading to bacterial sinusitis. The sinuses then get filled to the brim with mucus, and symptoms of sinusitis appear –that’s why your spouse could be claiming that your head could be filled with mucus. When he/she is not around, watch out for these six symptoms:
  • Pain in the face, especially around the eyes
  • Pressure around the eyes and nose
  • Mucus in the nose
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Weakness or feeling tired
While self-help, like steam inhalation and application of gentle heat over the inflamed area, can soothe the relieved sinus cavities, medical treatment would include:
  1. Antibiotics
  2. Decongestants
  3. Pain relievers
Surgery can unblock the sinuses when drug therapy is not effective. The simplest surgical approach is the insertion of a drainage tube into the sinuses, followed by an infusion of sterile water to flush the mucus out.

Functional endoscopic sinus surgery is the standard procedure, for most patients requiring surgical management of chronic sinusitis. The surgery does not require any external incision, but opens the sinuses, thereby improving their ventilation and drainage.

4 Tips to Prevent Sinusitis
There are several things one can do to help prevent sinusitis. People, who have allergies, may be more prone to sinusitis than others. Follow these tips to minimise the risk of illness:
  1. Avoid allergens
  2. Treat colds and influenza
  3. Use air conditioners. This will keep your house at an even temperature.
  4. Do not smoke. Smokers and those exposed to smoke are at an increased risk of developing infections.
Neti Pot Cleansing
Nasal irrigation is a natural way for removing mucus. The neti pot, a little teapot-shaped device, is commonly used. A bulb syringe or squeeze bottle are also used.

Every nasal irrigation method works on the same basic principle: Shoot a saline (salty water) solution up one nostril to loosen up all the mucus that's collected in your nasal cavity, which then drains out through the other nostril. Simple and effective.
Dr. Sanjeev Gupta is Senior Consultant – ENT at Apollo Hospitals, Bhubaneswar
  • The information on this site does not constitute medical advice and is not intended to be a substitute for medical care provided by a physician.
  • See additional information.