The Slime on Our Side
You might have never given it much thought, but mucus- the clear, slippery secretion covering the mucous membranes, is a hardworking ally that works day in and out to keep nasty infections at bay.
Mucus is typically produced by mucous cells. Mucus contains mostly glycoproteins and water, but it may also contain some enzymes such as lysozyme, which have antiseptic properties. Basically, the function of mucus is to line and protect the epithelial cells of various bodily systems including the visual, auditory, urogenital, gastrointestinal and respiratory. Speaking of the respiratory system, normally, the nose and sinuses produce anything between a pint and a quart of mucus daily. This passes into and through the nose, and in the process, “picks up” dust, pollen, bacteria and other air pollutants. Then, it is swept to the back of the throat by millions of tiny hair-like projections called cilia (which are found throughout the nasal cavity) until it is swallowed. Then, finally, in the stomach, strong gastric acids dissolve the mucus and the debris it carries with it.
Secretions associated with the common colds or rhinitis, or acute/chronic sinus infection drainage may sometimes be difficult to differentiate. And while establishing the diagnosis entails enumerating all the overt and covert manifestations and even the patient’s medical history, the color of the nasal/sinus drainage can provide some important clues:
Having clear mucus secretion is completely normal, but this color of secretion in copious amounts may indicate a viral infection (i.e. common cold), allergic rhinitis (in which the increase in mucus production is a reaction to the presence of an allergen or irritant) or a physiological reaction (such as after finishing a serving of a hot or spicy food).
Sinus infection drainage which is characterized by this yellowish or greenish color and an increase in its viscosity happens when a common cold or rhinitis attack is complicated by a secondary bacterial infection, This finding is an important consideration in the patient’s medical management because this often necessitates a prescription for antibiotics, among other medications- such as an oral decongestant.
Pinkish or reddish color may be indicative of a blood-tinged secretion. This is a common finding in chronic (long-standing) conditions, in which there could be tears in the tiny blood vessels lining the constantly inflamed mucous membranes. However, even an acute sinus infection drainage may also be blood-tinged simply as a result of frequent or forceful blowing of nose in an attempt to expel the excessive mucus.