INSANE IN THE MEMBRANE
You can consult the all-knowing Internets for all sorts of answers. When you’re sick, you’re but a couple clicks away from the latest, greatest miracle pharmaceutical or a long-lost remedy of Amazonian lore (or another step closer to contracting hypochondriasis). But I’m content with the usual arsenal — OJ, tea, DayQuill and lozenges — and instead got on the Google* to learn a little more about something that’s really impressed me whilst being sick: my mucus membranes. How the heck they so productive? Where does it all come from?
WHAT IN THE HELL IS THAT?
Wiki says that mucus is produced by mucus cells found in mucus glands. Learning anything yet? Me either.
OK. It does get better. Wiki goes on to say that “it is a viscous colloid” (i.e. “a substance microscopically dispersed evenly throughout another one”) “containing antiseptic enzymes such as lysozyme, proteins such as lactoferrin, glycoproteins known as mucins… immunoglobulins, and inorganic salts.”
So what does that do for you? “A major function of (mucus) is to protect against infectious agents such as fungi, bacteria and viruses.”
Perhaps I should rephrase: What does it do, that we don’t already know? “The average human body produces about a liter of mucus per day.”
Alright, now we’re getting somewhere!
NEAT GEEK TREATS
… Well, shit. That’s what I get for being a jerk and doubting Wiki. The specifics of mucus production are not so easily translatable, so I’ll just give you the link (to color-coded charts and technical mumbojumbo): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mucosa
But, I did harvest a few interesting tidbits:
– “(Various) invertebrates also produce external mucus… (that) may play a role in communication.”
– “Mucus does not digest in the intestinal tract, so mucus commonly appears in fecal matter whether its origin is from the intestines, or swallowed”
– “(M)ucus protects the olfactory epithelium and allows odors to dissolve so that they can be detected by olfactory receptor neurons.”
THE MEANING OF MUCUS
As a kid, I read a letter to The Tick in an early issue of Nickelodeon Magazine that complained of the grossness of opening up Kleenex wads once you’ve blown into them, to inspect your snot. Since then, I adopted a no-look rule when it comes to boogers. That is, until I had my very own team of infectious disease specialists who’d regularly inquire of me, “What color is your mucus?” and I reverted to my third grade self, replying, “Eew. I don’t know, ’cause I don’t look.”
Turns out, looking can tell you a lot:
White – Excessive white or clear mucus may indicate an allergy, acid reflux, or excessive dairy product consumption.
Yellow – Yellow mucus may indicate a viral infection (common during colds). Dark yellow mucus from the throat may indicate a chest infection like pneumonia or bronchitis. Dark yellow phlegm may indicate an infection of the lower respiratory tract, while light yellow phlegm may indicate an infection of the upper respiratory tract.
Green – Green mucus may indicate bacterial infection. Green phlegm is so-colored by an enzyme found in white blood cells called myeloperoxidases (MPO). Since white blood cells attract/attack bacteria more than they do viruses, green phlegm is a greater indication of bacterial infection. Also, green phlegm can sometimes be a symptom of allergic reactions.
Red – Blood-streaked phlegm can be common with bronchitis. Blood-stained mucus may be an indication of a raw throat or lungs, so is common with smokers. But if you can’t chalk it up to cancer sticks, don’t be fooled into thinking you’re hacking up blood and on the verge of death — sometimes food dyes (e.g. cherry lozenges, Kool-Aid, Red Vines) can scarlet your spit — and thus, your mucus. However, if it is indeed blood — especially if the blood is excessive — it could be something really serious like tuberculosis. Also, pink mucus can be common with asthmatics.
Brown or Gray – Typically caused by smoking, pollution or dirt (especially if it’s grainy in texture).
Whatever the color or consistency, if anything seems abnormal (or lasts for more than a few days) see your doctor post-haste. I had bloody mucus once and it turned out to be leukemia, so you never know.
GET ‘EGM, BOYS! What to do when you’ve got the mucus blues:
– Spit, don’t swallow.
– Reduce exposure to allergens like pollen, dust, mites and chemicals.
– Drink warm liquids and increase water intake (not only Europeans say room-temp best).
– Stop intake of mucus or histamine-causing foods like dairy products, and beef up your veggie consumption.
– Keep nasal passages clear by blowing yer nose or doing a steam treatment. Upcountry? Eucalyptus may be a bountiful pest in Maui’s mountainscape, but it works wonders. Submerge fresh leaves in boiling water or hang a big bunch in the shower. If you’ve got the gas and a DD, sticking your head out of the window of a fast-moving vehicle while holding one nostril and blowing vigorously works, so long as a no one’s behind you.
SOURCES (i.e. GOOD PLACES TO PICK UP MORE INFO):
DISCLAIMER: Uber-experienced patient though I may be, if medical professionals were spaceships, I’d be a Happy Meal Hot Wheels toy. I sourced all the info from the above — obviously extremely limited — links, and a little bit from my currently snot-clogged brain. So, there you go. Disclaimed.
* “Get on the Google,” is probably my favorite quote from @MauiTime’s #mauidebate** on @akakuTV, live 10/22/10. Thank you, Lisa Gapero. Thank you.
** Oh, and BTW. After that debate, Mike Victorino’s Ricola shot out of his mouth — narrowly missing captain Jacob Shafer — and Victorino just left it there. So I picked it up. With a napkin, of course, but I’m still blaming this current cold on him. So, thanks a lot, Mike Victorino. Thanks alot.