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What Does the Color of Your Mucus Mean?

mucus color meaning

Story at-a-glance -

  • Your body produces about 1 to 1.5 liters of mucus every day, but you probably only take notice of your mucus when it appears in a color or consistency that commands your attention
  • While it is not possible to diagnose an illness solely based on the color of your mucus, it may help you determine if the condition you’re dealing with may be treatable at home or requires a doctor visit
  • Natural remedies such as nasal irrigation, essential oils and hydrogen peroxide have been shown to be extremely effective in treating colds, sinus infections, sore throats and other mucus-related maladies; your diet and lifestyle choices also play a major role

By Dr. Mercola

Your body, even when it is healthy, produces about 1 to 1.5 liters of mucus every day. Though it's unlikely you've noticed, the majority of your mucus trickles down the back of your throat, while some is blown out through your nose or coughed up. While mucus has important functions within your body, you are most likely to notice it only because you are producing more of it or it is showing up in a consistency or color that commands your attention.

Even though it can be annoying to fill tissue after tissue with globs of snot and gooey discharge when you have a cold or sinus infection, your body needs mucus. Believe it or not, mucus serves a specific purpose and you need a certain amount of it to be healthy. Furthermore, the color and consistency of your mucus is part of the way your body lets you know what's going on inside. Here's what you need to know about mucus.

Mucus Plays a Vital Role Within Your Body

Your body is filled with mucus-producing tissue. More specifically, mucus is naturally occurring in the following areas of your body:

Gastrointestinal tract






In these sensitive areas, mucus provides a moist, protective layer to prevent your tissues from drying out and cracking. Mucus also plays an important role in trapping allergens, bacteria, dust and other unwanted substances, preventing them further entry into your body. For that reason, some mucus is sticky and thick, specially designed to trap foreign invaders. Beyond just being oozing goo, mucus is essential to your body's well-being because it contains:1

  • Antibodies that help your body fight off bacteria and viruses
  • Enzymes that kill the invaders it traps
  • Proteins that make your mucus inhospitable to germs

"Mucus is incredibly important for our bodies," explains Dr. Michael Johns III, director of the University of Southern California's voice center and professor of clinical otolaryngology. "It is the oil in the engine. Without mucus, the engine seizes."2 Mucus works with your cilia, tiny hairs that line your airways. Once your mucus traps offending particles, your cilia dispense with the mucus and unwanted particles by sending them to your throat to be coughed up or swallowed, or to your nose to be blown out.

What Your Mucus May Be Trying to Tell You

When the weather gets cooler, and particularly when cold and flu season takes root, your nose may begin to discharge mucus at alarming rates. Some of it may gather at the back of your throat, or it may settle into your lungs. While the color of your mucus is rarely a sufficient basis for a medical diagnosis, it can assist you toward having a better understanding of what might be going on inside your body.

For certain, specific colors of mucus can help you determine if the condition you're dealing with may be treatable at home or will require a visit to your doctor. Your body is capable of producing six basic colors of mucus that medical experts attach to probable medical conditions as follows:3,4

Color of Mucus Probable Condition Explanation


You're normal

Your body's normal type of mucus is clear because it consists mainly of water, as well as antibodies, dissolved salts and proteins.

Your nasal tissues produce clear mucus continuously, and most of it flows down the back of your throat and into your stomach.


You're congested

Your body is very likely signaling the presence of allergies, a cold, dehydration or a nasal infection.

Swollen, inflamed tissues in your nose are slowing the flow of your mucus, causing it to lose moisture and become cloudy and thick.


You're dealing with a cold or infection that is progressing

Infection-fighting cells, which include white blood cells, have joined the fight against a microbial infection.

Once they've performed their job, these infection fighters are carried off by your mucus, which causes it to take on a yellowish hue.


Your immune system is fighting back

Your immune system is taking things to the next level in a fight against what may be a bacterial infection.

Your mucus is changing color again mainly due to the presence of even larger amounts of dead white blood cells and other cellular debris.

If your illness has lasted more than 12 days, you may want to visit your doctor, especially if you have a fever or are nauseated.


You have a broken blood vessel in your nose

Blowing your nose or coughing can cause small blood vessels in your nose or airways to break and bleed.

While specks of red (or pink) are not uncommon due to your mucosa becoming dry and irritated, the presence of a lot of blood may indicate a more serious medical condition.


You likely inhaled something dark

Although brown mucus could be a sign of dried blood, it is more common for it to signal the presence of something you inhaled from the environment, such as dirt, dust or other darkly-colored debris.


You are a smoker or you have a fungal infection

If you smoke or use illegal drugs, your mucus may turn black.

If you have a compromised immune system, black mucus may indicate you have a serious fungal infection.

If you are not already seeing a doctor, you should make an appointment immediately.

Dr. Scott Stringer, professor and chairman of the department of otolaryngology and communicative sciences at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, suggests mucus that is a darker shade of yellow could be a serious cause for concern:5

"We breathe in mold all the time and most people will clear it right down their throat, but if you are allergic, it will stick, causing swelling in your nasal passages. The spores grow and you lose moisture in the nose, which is what causes the very unusual and persistent color and texture of the mucus."

The type of mucus to which Stringer refers is a dark yellow color with a consistency similar to peanut butter. The goldish color and sticky consistency may be a sign of fungal sinusitis, a type of infection caused when mold spores become trapped in your nose. Due to its serious nature, if you have this type of mucus, reach out for medical assistance as soon as possible.

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Home Remedies to Help You Cope With Too Much Mucus

Generally speaking, white, yellow or green mucus can be treated at home. Below are some tips to help you cope when your body produces an overabundance of white, yellow or green mucus:6

  • Apply essential oils: Essential oils such as eucalyptus oil or peppermint oil are useful to promote relaxation and improved breathing. Apply them topically to your chest, nose or feet. Always dilute these oils in a carrier oil such as coconut oil before applying them to your skin. You can also use these oils with steam inhalation or diffuse them into the air
  • Exercise gently: You may find that walking or other gentle movement, assuming you are feeling up to it, will help you loosen and cough up excess mucus
  • Get good-quality sleep: Sleep helps your body heal and restore and is an important aspect of helping your immune system fight back against illness
  • Stay hydrated: Dehydration can worsen your condition and make it harder for your body to cough up and eliminate mucus
  • Use a humidifier: Humidifiers add moisture to the air, which may ease your breathing and help loosen up mucus that has lodged at the back of your throat or settled into your chest. If you get frequent nosebleeds, particularly during winter, it may be that the air in your home is simply too dry

While your doctor may recommend taking an over-the-counter expectorant, such as guaifenesin, to help thin your mucus and make it easier to cough up, there are other nondrug options. You may actually get better results with clove bud oil. Clove bud oil is well-known for its oral health benefits.

It has a variety of uses, including its ability to ease respiratory problems, such as colds, coughs and sinusitis, as well as asthma and tuberculosis. Simply chewing on a clove bud is said to help sore throats, and it has been approved as a dental anesthetic mouthwash and gargle.

How to Make Your Own Clove Bud Oil

Clove bud essential oil is most often produced through steam distillation. You can, however, extract oil from clove buds at home. Here's an easy-to-follow guide:7

What You'll Need to Make 1 Ounce of Clove Oil

  • 5 to 10 fresh clove buds, crushed
  • A dark, sanitized glass jar, preferably with a dropper
  • Organic extra virgin or virgin olive oil
  • Strainer (cheesecloth or coffee filter)
  • Glass container with spout


  1. Place the crushed cloves in the jar
  2. Fill the jar with olive oil to a level that is about 1 inch above the crushed cloves
  3. Seal the jar tightly and shake it three to four times to ensure the cloves and olive oil are mixed together
  4. Set the jar aside for 10 to 14 days in a cool, dark place to allow the oil to extract the chemical properties of the cloves
  5. Strain the oil into a glass container with a spout to remove any sediment. (Multiple strainings will ensure all particles are removed)
  6. Dispose of the cloves; they cannot be reused
  7. Pour the strained mixture back into the original jar and keep the lid closed tightly
  8. When stored properly, the oil will last four to five years. The color of the oil may darken over time

How to Apply:

  • Use two drops of clove bud oil in steam inhalation to loosen and expel mucus
  • Add two drops of clove bud oil to your decongesting ointment or gel and rub onto your chest, back and throat
  • Place two drops of clove bud oil into a cup of warm water and use as a mouth rinse or gargle

Use a Neti Pot to Help Discharge Mucus and Moisturize Your Sinuses

Another great alternative to dealing with a stuffy nose or dry sinuses is nasal irrigation. If the thought of putting water up your nose is unpleasant, be assured you have total control over this slightly awkward process, which is more beneficial than you might initially think. Several options exist for nasal irrigation, including:

  • Bulb syringe
  • Neti pot, which is a small teapot-shaped device
  • Squeeze bottle

Each of these methods is simple and can be completed in just a few minutes. All three operate according to the same basic principle: You use the device to shoot a salt-water solution (also known as saline) up one nostril at a time to help loosen up and remove any mucus residing in your nasal cavity. As the water goes up one side of your nose, it comes out the other. After flushing one nostril, you switch sides and irrigate the other.

Prepare your saline by adding a small amount of sea salt to either distilled, sterile or previously boiled and cooled water. Never use tap water for nasal irrigation! Be sure to clean your irrigation device with soap and water after each use.

Because your nose needs a certain amount of mucus (the clear kind) to be healthy, it's important you moderate your use of nasal irrigation. Save it for only when your sinuses are clogged or irritated, and take breaks from flushing your nose when you begin to feel better. Nasal irrigation can help reduce allergy-related stuffiness, too.

Strengthening Your Immune System Will Cut Your Risk of Illness

You can prevent colds, coughs, sinus infections and sore throats — and recover from them more quickly — by taking steps today to strengthen your immune system. Begin by overhauling your diet, avoiding sugar, optimizing your vitamin D level, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly and managing your stress. As unappreciated as it may be, practicing effective handwashing is still the No. 1 way to prevent the spread of contagious disease.

Detailed instructions that will help set you on the right path to optimal health can be found in my nutrition plan, which is centered around the intake of real food. Importantly, if you feel yourself coming down with a cold or flu, avoid all sugar, grains, artificial sweeteners and processed foods. Rather than help your body heal, those items will fuel the illness and potentially prolong it.

Sugar is particularly damaging to your immune system. When your body is fighting infection, your immune system needs a boost, not further suppression. Some of the foods that help strengthen your immune system, as well as help fight strep throat, sore throat and coughs, are as follows:

Apple cider vinegar has antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. It may also help boost your immune function by raising alkalinity in your body.

Bone broth is a staple remedy for colds and flu. Processed, canned soups will not work as well as the homemade version.

Coconut oil contains lauric acid that your body converts into monolaurin, a monoglyceride with the ability to destroy lipid-coated viruses, including influenza, HIV, herpes and measles, as well as gram-negative bacteria.

Fermented foods help "reseed" your gut with beneficial bacteria. Some examples include raw kefir, kimchi, miso, pickles and sauerkraut.

Garlic is a potent antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal agent. To realize the most benefits, you might consider consuming it raw, and crush it just before eating.

You can also include a clove or two of garlic when you are making fresh vegetable juice.

Organic grass fed beef is high in vitamins A and E, omega-3 fats, beta-carotene, zinc and CLA.

CLA (conjugated linoleic acid, a fatty acid), an immune enhancer, is three to five times higher in grass fed animals than those fed a grain-based diet.

Organic vegetables, especially dark leafy greens like collard greens, kale, spinach and Swiss chard contain powerful antioxidants, carotenoids, flavonoids and vitamin C — all of which help protect against infections.

Ideally, opt for organic, locally grown veggies that are in season, and consider eating a fair amount of them raw. Juicing is an excellent way to get more greens into your diet.

Raw, grass fed, organic milk contains beneficial bacteria and fats that prime your immune system. It's also a good source of vitamin A and zinc.

Pasteurized dairy products are best avoided, as they may promote respiratory problems such a recurring bronchitis, colds or congestion.

Raw organic eggs from pastured chickens are far superior in nutrient content (such as vitamins A and E, beta carotene, and omega-3 fats) than conventional eggs.

Ideally, you will want to consume your eggs raw since cooking them destroys many of the nutrients.

Applying Hydrogen Peroxide to Your Ears Can Help Stop a Cold or Sore Throat

If you have never heard of or tried using hydrogen peroxide to stave off a cold or sore throat, you may be missing out on one of the easiest and most economical home remedies. At the first sign of cold symptoms, which often involves a tickle in your throat, pour a capful of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide into each ear. Start by lying on your side and applying the solution to your first ear.

Upon pouring the solution into your ear canal, you will hear and feel the bubbling. This is a normal reaction, which may or may not involve a body-wide chill sensation and a slight stinging in your ear canal. Wait for most of the bubbling to subside (about five to 10 minutes), then drain the fluid onto a tissue. Turn over and repeat with the other ear. Do not use this technique if you believe you have an ear infection and the ear drum may have ruptured or opened.

Given the low cost of a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, this is a remarkably inexpensive way to curtail colds, flu, respiratory infections and sore throats. For best results, treat your ears as soon as possible at the first sign of illness. Often one application does the trick. If not, repeat the treatment daily until your symptoms subside.