Snot Color Meaning: What It Can Tell You About Your Health

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If you’ve ever blown your nose and had something unexpected come out, you’re definitely not alone if you immediately hopped onto Google and typed “snot color meaning.” But don’t panic: If you’ve ever had a nasty cold, you know that your snot color can change up depending on your health.

To help, we talked to doctors who told us exactly how to decode the color in your tissue. Turns out, it’s more than just color you’ll want to pay attention to. “Color is important, but so is consistency and amount,” Raj Sindwani M.D., an otolaryngologist at Cleveland Clinic, tells SELF. When snot—or nasal mucus, as the pros call it—is abnormal, it may indicate that something is up.

Let’s look at the rainbow of snot color meaning, shall we?

Clear snot

Good news: Normal, healthy snot is clear, thin, watery, and plentiful, Erich P. Voigt, M.D., associate professor in the department of otolaryngology at NYU Langone Medical Center, tells SELF. “Our body produces about 1 liter of mucus and saliva a day, but we don’t notice the normal production.” What’s the stuff made of? Mostly water, with some proteins, antibodies, and dissolved salts, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

That said, you’re not totally in the clear just because your snot is. If your snot is clear, but also runny and more abundant than usual, that often means your nose is working overtime to try to get rid of something in there that your body doesn’t like, typically an allergen or irritant, Dr. Sindwani says. This is a classic symptom of seasonal allergies. “If it’s the start of spring and all of a sudden your nose gets stuffy and starts running and it’s clear,” it’s likely you’re having an allergic reaction, Dr. Voigt says. This will typically be paired with other symptoms, Dr. Sindwani says, like itchy eyes or sneezing. Treating the allergic reaction with something like antihistamines should help stem the flow and clear up your other symptoms, but see your primary care doctor or an allergist if you’re feeling miserable every day.

Runniness that is sudden and short-lived can be due to other elements in the environment. You may be dealing with exposure to irritants, such as pollutants in the air, certain fragrances, or secondhand smoke, Dr. Sindwani says. Or, suddenly drippy discharge on a chilly day could actually just be water condensing as the cold air is warmed in your nasal passages and runs out your nostrils, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Excess clear snot paired with other symptoms like a cough, fever, or general feeling of blahness that hangs around for three or four days may also signal the beginning a mild upper respiratory virus, like a brief cold, Dr. Voigt says. You can often treat yourself with OTC cold medicine, but see your doctor if you start to feel worse or don’t get better after a few days.

Colorless cloudy snot

Colorless, thick nasal mucus (the kind that clogs up your nose and doesn’t seem to budge no matter how much you blow) signals congestion that may be due to a couple things. One possibility is a chronic allergy, like if you’re allergic to dust. “It’s everywhere year round, so you won’t feel that runniness anymore, you’ll just feel stuffy all the time and the nasal mucus might be thicker and more plentiful than usual,” Dr. Voigt says. Consider seeing an allergist if this is the case for you.

Dehydration can also make your snot a little stodgy. “Mucus reflects the level of hydration in our bodies,” Dr. Sindwani says. When there’s less water content, it becomes more concentrated, viscous, and congesting. Thick snot may also make it seem like you’ve got more snot in there than you actually do. “People who think they have too much mucus many times are, in fact, not making enough,” Dr. Voigt explains, “so it’s too dry and not flowing nicely.” So if your snot is like molasses, drink up to help thin it out.

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