If Your Boogers Look Like This, It's Time To See A Doctor

Experts share what types of mucus aren't normal and how to tell if something unusual is a sign of a more serious problem.
Your mucus can tell you a lot about your health.
Westend61 via Getty Images
Your mucus can tell you a lot about your health.

Did you know that the color of your boogers has different meanings and can suggest potential health problems?

“When encountering any change to mucus color, it is vital that people pay close attention to accompanying symptoms and overall health,” said Dr. Laura Purdy, a board-certified family medicine physician.A mild change may not warrant alarm. However, if other symptoms persistent, like coughing, chest pain, difficulty breathing or fever, it would be wiser to seek medical assistance immediately as these could indicate an infection or respiratory disorder that requires an assessment by a health care professional before treatment can commence.”

Below, you’ll find the colors of boogers that aren’t a cause for concern and those that medical professionals say might warrant a trip to the doctor’s office:

Yellow/Green

The last time you or your kid came down with a cold, you may have noticed that your boogers were yellowish green ― that’s pretty common when you’re sick.

Yellow mucus may be an indicator of infection as it usually represents white blood cells working against viruses and bacteria in your system as part of its immune defense response system,” Purdy said.

However, a change in the color of mucus to a yellow or greenish color may not always be indicative of a bacterial cold.

Colored mucus does not always signify a bacterial infection,” said Dr. Alexa Mieses Malchuk, district medical director and primary care physician at One Medical. “It is just a sign that your immune system is working to fight something, as the color change has to do with chemicals that your immune cells use to fight infection.”

Brown

You may not be as familiar with brown mucus, and that’s because it’s not as common as clear, yellow and green boogers. Though it may not be a cause for concern, you’ll want to check with a doctor because it could be a sign that something is going on.

“Brown mucus may result from several different sources, whether that’s blood mixing with mucus from old injuries in your respiratory system or environmental influences such as dust or pollution exposure,” Purdy said.

Additionally, the same goes for brown mucus that’s being coughed up. “If you’re coughing up truly brown or rust-colored phlegm, this would be concerning as it could be coming from the lungs,” Malchuk said. “You should always consult your family physician for brown phlegm, especially when it comes up with coughing.”

Red

According to Dr. Phillip Kadaj, an internal medicine doctor and an expert for JustAnswer.com, red boogers are commonly associated with injury and irritation. If you have consistent red boogers, then you’ll want to consult with a physician to make sure there’s no underlying health issues.

A majority of times, a streak of red in boogers may be indicative of irritation ― for example, if you’ve recently had a cold and were blowing your nose often or picked your nose and nicked the interior.

Black

Yes, it’s true — you may come across black boogers. “Black can be seen due to the presence of a fungal infection or in individuals who smoke or inhale smoke,” Kadaj said.

Black mucus is the least common out of all the colors mentioned above, but if you have it, always chat with your physician.

Clear mucus typically is a sign that things are OK.
MoMo Productions via Getty Images
Clear mucus typically is a sign that things are OK.

Mucus That’s Likely OK? Clear.

The last time you blew your nose, you may have noticed that your snot was clear. According Purdy, clear mucus is generally not a cause for concern.

“Clear mucus is considered normal and healthy, acting as the body’s natural defense mechanism to keep the respiratory system free of irritations and protect it against allergies or colds,” Purdy said.

Kadaj added that clear mucus may indicate allergies, non-allergic rhinitis (runny nose for other reasons, like after eating), or pregnancy rhinitis (runny nose during pregnancy). If you suspect your nasal discharge is one of these issues, it’s worth chatting with a doctor at your next visit.

What Else To Consider

Mucus color alone cannot always provide a definitive indicator of an illness; other considerations, including duration and associated symptoms, must also be considered when making decisions regarding an individual’s respiratory health and mucus color,” Purdy said.

You know your body (or your kid’s health) better than anyone else. If you notice a change in the color of your boogers that’s different from what you’re used to, then it may indicate something is going on, whether that’s a cold, injury or otherwise.

People should have a low threshold to contact their physician if they develop any change in mucus that is concerning or if they have signs of other issues like facial pain or irritation,” Kadaj said.

It’s important to monitor the color of your boogers because it might help you detect a medical issue and get it resolved sooner rather than later.

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