By Dr. Shashowt Ojha, family medicine resident, Nuvance Health
Boogers ― also known as snot, mucus or nose goblins ― are a natural and essential part of the respiratory system. They are made up of a mixture of air, dust and many secretions produced by the sinuses and the nasal passage.
The main function of boogers is to clean and moisturize the nose. They also defend us from dangerous particles and bacteria in our environment. They don’t sound as awful as we make them, huh?
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I like to think of boogers as the secret agents of our nostrils. They are always on a mission to protect us from viruses, bacteria and everything else that doesn't belong in our body. Also, sometimes they can send us signals to let us know something is off and needs our attention.
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What can boogers tell us?
The two types of signals are changes in color and/or texture. These can change depending on different factors such as infections, dry air, allergies, etc. Being aware of these changes can provide vital clues about our body’s health.
- Clear boogers are typically a sign of nasal passages that are in good shape. These are the most common type. They are made up of water and other secretions that help to keep the nasal cavity moist.
- Green or yellow boogers can sometimes (not always) indicate an infection, such as a sinus infection or a common cold. This is due to the presence of white blood cells, which are sent to fight off the infection. These may also have a thicker consistency and be tougher to blow out of the nose.
- Sticky, chunky boogers can also indicate sinus trouble or even just dry air. When we have inflammation of the sinuses, it can cause congestion in the nasal passage and make breathing difficult.
- Watery boogers can indicate allergies or a cold. Allergies can cause the nasal passages to produce more mucus to flush out the allergen. Meanwhile, a cold virus can cause inflammation in the nasal passages, leading to an increase in mucus production.
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When to seek medical care
Boogers, no matter the color or consistency, are not always a direct indicator of an underlying problem. However, if you do have oddly shaped or colored boogers along with other symptoms such as a fever, headaches or difficulty breathing, it’s best to see a healthcare provider. They can help determine the cause and provide appropriate treatment.
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Boogers play a crucial role in our respiratory tract and send us clues about our health. Being aware of the changes in these helpers can let us target potential issues and receive appropriate medical care. Learn more about telehealth visits.
Remember, boogers are not something to be ashamed of. They are an essential part of our intricate body. So next time you see your friend’s booger peeking out of their nostril, let them know all about these secret agents and what they do for us. After handing them a tissue, of course.
Dr. Shashowt Ojha is a Family Medicine resident at Nuvance Health. Learn more about Nuvance Health residency programs.