Why does nasal discharge change color?

If you've ever had a runny nose or sneezed without a tissue, you've probably come into close contact with your snot. You may have noticed that it changes color or texture from time to time. Nasal discharge can be clear, green, black, and many other colors in between.

Your mucus protects your nose and sinuses from dust, bacteria, and other environmental dangers. Why does mucus change color? It usually has to do with something happening inside or outside your body. You may be healthy, or you may have a cold, allergies, or other underlying illness.

Here's a guide to the different conditions that can affect the color of your nasal discharge, tips for finding relief, and when to see your doctor.

What do different snot colors mean?

Clear white green or yellow red or pink brown or orange Black
"normal" or healthy
allergic sinusitis
common cold
fungal infection
injury or irritation
Nonallergic or pregnancy rhinitis
Smoking/drug use

What does clearing nose mean?

A clear nose is considered "normal" or healthy. Your body produces about 1.5 quarts of this secretion each day, but you'll probably swallow most of it. This mucus is made up of water and proteins, antibodies and salts. Once it reaches the stomach, it dissolves. Your body will continue to work around the clock to help line up and protect your nose and sinuses.

Allergic rhinitis or "hay fever" may also cause a clear, runny nose. Although you may feel uncomfortable, allergies are not caused by viruses. Symptoms are your body's reaction to irritants such as pollen, cat or dog fur, and dust mites.

Other symptoms may include:

  • postnasal instillation
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • sneeze
  • cough
  • Itchy nose, throat, or roof of mouth
  • Discoloration of the skin under the eyes
  • fatigue

Some women experience a runny nose during pregnancy, called nonallergic rhinitis. Researchers explain that the condition is caused by hormonal changes and can occur during any trimester. More common between weeks This condition usually resolves within a few weeks of delivery.

What does white nasal discharge mean?

If you feel stuffy or stuffy, you may notice that your nasal discharge is white. Your nose may also be swollen or inflamed, and nasal mucus may flow slowly. Stomaching can cause your snot to lose moisture. It becomes thick and even cloudy, both signs that you may have a cold or infection brewing.

The common cold can make you feel generally sick. Your symptoms usually appear within one to three days after exposure to the virus. Children are particularly susceptible to colds. Adults, on the other hand, may experience two to three colds per year.

Other symptoms include:

  • sore throat
  • congestion
  • cough
  • sneeze
  • Low-grade fever, or fever above 98.6°F (37°C) but below 100.4°F (38°C)
  • mild body aches
  • mild headache

What does yellow snot mean?

Yellow mucus indicates that any virus or infection you have is taking hold. good news? Your body is fighting back. The yellow color comes from cells - such as white blood cells - rushing to kill harmful bacteria. Once the cells have done their job, they're dumped in your snot, staining it a yellowish-brown color.

Your illness may last 10 to 14 days, but be aware of your runny nose.

What does green snot mean?

If your immune system kicks into high gear to fight off the infection, your snot may turn green and become extra thick. The color comes from dead white blood cells and other waste products.

But green snot is not always a reason to run to the doctor. In fact, some sinus infections may be viral rather than bacterial.

However, if you have had a cold or infection for 12 days or more, this may be a good time to make an appointment. You may have a bacterial sinus infection or other bacterial infection that requires medication. Look for other signs that you are not getting better, such as fever, headache, or nausea.

What does pink or red (bloody) snot mean?

Blood in the snot will stain it pink or red. If you blow your nose frequently or if your nose is hit in some way, the blood may flow a little.

To prevent nosebleeds, consider:

  • Apply petroleum jelly or other ointment to nasal passages 3 times a day
  • Use a saline nasal spray to add moisture to your nasal tissues
  • Trim nails to prevent nose picking
  • Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air
  • blow your nose more gently

Pregnant women may also experience a runny nose. This may be due to increased blood volume, hormones, or swelling of the nasal passages.

If your child is bleeding, call their pediatrician. This is especially important if your child is under 2 years old.

If your blood loss is the result of an acute injury such as a car accident, seek medical attention to rule out more serious problems.

You should also see your doctor if you:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Bleeding for more than 30 minutes
  • Produces more than about 1 tablespoon of blood

What does brown or orange snot mean?

Brown snot may be the result of old blood leaking out of the body. Or you may have breathed in a red or brown substance that changes the color of the mucus. Possibilities include dirt, snuff, or paprika.
What does black nose mean?

Black nasal mucus can be a sign of a serious fungal infection. Although uncommon, people with compromised immune systems may be susceptible to this disease.

There are four types of sinus fungal infections:

  • Mycetoma fungal sinusitis. This type is caused by spores that invade the sinus cavity. Treatment involves curettage of the infected sinuses.
  • Allergic fungal sinusitis. This type is more common in people with a history of allergic rhinitis. The infection must be removed surgically.
  • Chronic indolent sinusitis. This type is mostly found outside the United States in areas such as Sudan and India. Other symptoms include headache, facial swelling and visual disturbances.
  • Fulminant sinusitis. This type can damage the sinuses and the bony areas that contain the eyeballs and brain.

People who smoke or use illegal drugs may also have black nose.

Regardless of the underlying cause, it's best to contact your doctor for a more formal diagnosis.

What should I do if the texture of my nasal discharge changes?

The actual texture of snot has a lot to do with its water content. Free-flowing nasal mucus contains more water than solid snot. In some cases, drinking more water may help thin mucus. Changes in texture can occur throughout the disease.

Watery discharge from the nose may be a warning sign of a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leak. A leak occurs when the membrane around your brain develops a tear, possibly due to injury or certain medical conditions (such as hydrocephalus).

Other symptoms of cerebrospinal fluid leak include:

  • nausea
  • Vomit
  • stiff neck
  • Sensitive to light or sound
  • Positional headache; for example, you may feel more pain sitting up than lying down

If you suspect you may have a cerebrospinal fluid leak, seek medical attention.

when to see the doctor

It can be difficult to tell the difference between a cold or other viral infection and a bacterial infection. Color isn't always the best indicator of whether you should see a doctor. Instead, pay attention to the duration of your illness and the worsening of other symptoms.

Most colds last 7 to 10 days. Their severity usually peaks between the third and fifth days. A bacterial infection may worsen as it progresses and last beyond this time period.

Other signs you should make an appointment:

  • Yellow nasal discharge accompanied by fever for three or four days in a row
  • Headache may be concentrated around or behind the eyes, and may be worse when bending over
  • swelling or dark circles around the eyes

In rare cases, the infection may spread to the eyes or brain. If you notice any of the following symptoms, seek medical attention immediately:

  • Swelling or redness around the eyes throughout the day
  • severe headache
  • sensitive to light
  • pain in the back of the neck
  • increased irritability
  • persistent vomiting

How to get rid of a runny or stuffy nose

Think your runny nose might be the result of allergies? There are several things you can do to clear congestion:
  • Try to avoid irritants such as ragweed, grass and trees on high pollen days. If you can't avoid outdoor activities completely, avoid going out between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m.
  • Close the windows and use the air conditioner.
  • Don't hang your clothes outside to dry. Mold and pollen can cling to your clothes, towels and sheets.
  • Take precautions when doing yard work. A dust mask can protect you from irritants while you're mowing, raking, or gardening.
  • Talk to your doctor about allergy medications. You can take prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines or decongestants.

For congestion caused by colds and other conditions:

  • Blow your nose gently as needed. Sniffing and swallowing nasal mucus is another option in the short term.
  • Drink plenty of fluids—at least eight 8-ounce glasses a day—to help thin mucus for easier blowing.
  • Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air you breathe.
  • Spray a saline solution into the nasal passages. This is a drug-free saline solution, so you can use it 2 to 3 times a day.
  • If your congestion is severe, consider using a decongestant, such as Afrin, for up to three days.
  • Use a bulb syringe to remove excess nasal discharge from babies and small children.

Alternatively, you can try using a neti pot to rinse debris or mucus from your nose.

To use a neti pot:

  1. Use distilled or sterilized water to mix the brine together.
  2. Tilt your head to one side over the sink. Place the nozzle in your upper nostril.
  3. Breathe through your mouth and pour the solution into your upper nostrils. It will drain out of your lower nostril.
  4. Repeat the process on the other side.
  5. After use, rinse the pot with distilled or sterilized water and allow to air dry.


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