Never mind the yuck factor: Mucus is your body's way of protecting itself.
"Mucus filters air to keep germs, dust and other particles from getting into your lungs," explains Phillip LoSavio, MD, an otolaryngologist at Rush University Medical Center. Here are three changes to watch for that could signal a health problem:
1. Volume. "Glands in your nose and throat constantly make mucus — up to two quarts daily," LoSavio says. But things like allergies, spicy food and pregnancy can make your body churn out more. Often, it's merely annoying. "But an excess amount that lasts beyond two to three weeks should be brought to a doctor's attention," he advises.
2. Consistency. When mucus thickens, you notice it in the back of your throat. "Thick mucus can mean you're not hydrated enough," LoSavio says. So up your fluid intake. You can also thin out mucus with a steamy shower or an over-the-counter saline nasal spray.
3. Color. Yellow or green mucus frequently indicates an infection, but not necessarily a bacterial one. If you have a viral infection — for example, a cold — your doctor might suggest a decongestant to relieve symptoms.
"See your doctor if mucus is accompanied by a large amount of nose bleeding, high fevers, vision changes or severe pain," LoSavio says.
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