Medical Mucus in the nose and sinuses

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It's funny how some topics elicit a large response.

Mucus, as pointed out earlier, originates in the airway and nasal cavities, is composed primarily of long glycoproteins (MUC proteins) and water in addition to lots of small signalling molecules (ATP, cytokines) and ions (a lot of sodium and chloride). The mucus is regulated by the body- a symptom of cystic fibrosis is dehydrated mucus due to faulty ion transport.

The function of mucus is protective- the lungs must remain sterile in the face of inhaled contaminants- bacteria, mold spores, virii, particulate matter, yeast, etc. The mucociliary system serves to transport the junk out of the lung. Some bacteria (pseudomonas) thrive in the dehydrated mucus, leading the chronic lung infection- this is usually what kills the CF patients.

The mucus is secreted and transported by the motile cilia covering the airway and nasal cavity. Here's where it gets interesting: the mucus layer (in normal situations) is a constant thickness. Since the surface area of the lung decreases as you move up and out, the mucus must get absorbed, or components must get absorbed to decrease the volume. It's not clear how the mucus layer is maintained at a constant thickness.

Lots of things can go wrong with this system- excess secretion, improper transport, decreased resorption. That, coupled with inflammation of the epithelial layer (from the cytokines that are secreted into the mucus), can cause additonal problems.

A rule of thumb- if your mucus is cloudy, you have a bacterial infection. If it's clear, you have a viral infection. This is based on the size of the bug (light scattering).


What if it starts out nice and clear and thin, and then you wake up and its turned green and goopy?
 

Andy Resnick

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That's bacteria.

I keep telling everyone I have the dream job for an 8-year old boy: all day spent studying pee and snot. Seriously, is there anything better than that?
 
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So, should I be seeing a doctor then? Will I need antibiotics? I had a serious sinus infection a couple years ago, it was torture, Ive never been in so much pain in my life. I dont want to go into the clinic unless I need to though, I am always complaining about people who run to the doctor every time they get a cold.
 

Evo

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I would go to the doctor and let them decide if you need antibiotics. I agree with you on how painful sinus infections can be, I felt like I was inhaling fire and my head was going to explode. It was 15 years ago and it still makes me cringe just thinking about it. Don't let it get that bad!!!
 

Mk

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A rule of thumb- if your mucus is cloudy, you have a bacterial infection. If it's clear, you have a viral infection. This is based on the size of the bug (light scattering).
What does yellow mean?
 

DaveC426913

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A rule of thumb- if your mucus is cloudy, you have a bacterial infection. If it's clear, you have a viral infection. This is based on the size of the bug (light scattering).
Really? Huh. I'd always assumed the green/yellow was the carcasses of white blood cells.
 

Moonbear

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The green/yellow thing I know applies to sputum (what you cough up and spit out coming up from your lungs), but I'm not so sure it applies to nasal mucus (what comes out when you blow your nose). Every time I've ever had a cold, it starts out clear and runny, and as I start to get better and the mucus isn't produced so copiously, it thickens and gets yellowish just before finally going away (that's yellowish and cloudy, not green...green is probably still a sign of bacterial infection). Now you guys are going to make me spend my lunch hour looking up references on snot...thanks. :rolleyes:
 

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