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Nasal Discharge

We're going to start off the weekend with a look at a common body secretion this time of year - snot.

What is it? Snot is a specific form of mucus, which is made up of proteins called mucins. The cells of the membrane lining the inside of the nose (aptly named the mucous membrane) secrete it.

Why? It's a defense mechanism.
The mucus traps foreign particles as air moves in and out of the nose. Small hairs in the nose help keep it flowing (and it's not all headed out!).  The mucus also helps lubricate the nasal cavity, preventing it from drying out (which can be painful as anyone who has woken up on a cold, dry winter morning with a nosebleed will tell you…but that type of scenario is for another post!).

What else is in snot besides protein? Water (which adds to the viscosity of the mucin gel), white blood cells (to neutralize any pathogens that get trapped in the mucus), and ions (also known as electrolytes). The color and thickness of your snot can tell you about your nose  - irritated sinuses tend to produce thicker snot, causing congestion.

What the colors mean: Green snot is filled with more white blood cells and sometimes indicates infection; red or brown snot means the mucous membrane is bleeding, maybe from picking or from getting dried out; yellow could indicate a sinus infection, though it could also just be the thicker protein content because of allergies. You can have clear snot and still be sick

Credit: Acaparadora, Wikimedia
Did you know that women also have snot in their vaginas? Well, it's mucus produced by a mucous membrane, we just don't call it snot because we've reserved that word for nasal discharge. Everyone also has mucus in their stomachs, and not just because we swallow most of the nasal mucus  - the digestive system is lined with mucus membranes that produce the mucus as lubrication to protect the interior of the organs.  Oh, and saliva is also a type of mucus…we'll look at that on Monday.

Gross Fact: the average nasal cavity makes a liter of snot a day

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