Dr. Richard M. Bass, a professor of otolaryngology, which is a branch of medicine that specializes in the treatment of the nose, ear and throat and related allergies, provides the answers to questions on what is the purpose of mucus and what important role it plays for our health.
How is mucus produced?
The mucus glands in the nose produce mucus and it also produced by the salivary glands in the mouth to help in swallowing. People swallow about a quart a day of mucus and salvia.
What is the importance of mucus for our system?
Mucus is an important lubricant for the nose. If you didn't have mucus in the nose it would lead to dryness and crusting which could lead to an obstruction in the nose and bleeding. It helps in airflow through the nose and without it the nose could become irritated and swelled making it harder to breathe.
Besides lubrication, there are enzymes and antibodies in the mucus that attach themselves to viruses and bacteria that come in through the nose and mucus sends them down the throat to the stomach to be digested out of the body. Mucus also traps dust particles.
How much mucus is normal?
1.7 liters or about a quart made up of a combination of mucus and salvia is produced a day, although you don't really notice this since most of goes down the throat and you don't feel it.
When can there be overproduction of mucus?
Allergies can cause overproduction and one can have a lot of drainage out of their nose and feel it going down their throat. An allergic reaction includes sneezing, nasal congestion, itchy nose and watery eyes. Hay fever caused by ragweed is one example of an allergy that causes this overproduction. People can also have an allergic reaction to animals such as dogs or cats.
How can allergies be treated?
Allergies can be treated through antihistamines, decongestants and nasal steroids. You can ask your physician for the best way to treat you particular allergies.
What besides allergies can cause overproduction of mucus?
Vasomotor rhinitis is like allergies and has the same symptoms, but is not related to allergens and has different triggers. It is an overreaction of the nervous system to the environment and involves temperature change, humidity change, pressure change, food and beverages, infections and certain medications and even stress. If you have rhinitis, the lining of the nose swells due to expanding blood vessels and your nose drips.
Vasomotor rhinitis can be treated by oral decongestants, and nasal sprays, such as, antihistamine nasal sprays, steroid nasal sprays or saline nasal sprays, ask your physician for advice and what will work best for you.
Can a sinus infection cause an overproduction of mucus?
There are mucus glands inside the lining of the sinus, which moves mucus out through the sinus openings. If the sinus is blocked by a cold or respiratory infection it can cause a mucus infection and the mucus can become green and thick and come out the throat and nose. Sinus infections can be treated with antibiotics.
Does mucus change colors?
Only if it is infected, normally it is clear. If it is infected it becomes green or yellow and it is usually thick.
What is the most important fact about mucus?
It is anti-bacterial and is anti-viral and fights invaders every day and every minute.
Dr. Richard M. Bass is a professor of otolaryngology head and neck surgery, specializing in general otolaryngology, otology at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. Bass has also been in private practice in otolaryngology head and neck surgery in Springfield. His previous appointments included chief of otolaryngology at the U.S. Army Hospital in Ft. Campbell, Ky.
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