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7 Facts About Mucus, Phlegm And Boogers

What's the difference between boogers and broccoli? Kids don't eat broccoli!

Mucus, phlegm, snot, and of course boogers, or boogies, have become the butt of many jokes, largely because they have that gross-out factor going for them. Jokes aside, though, there's a lot you might not know about snot, boogers, and phlegm. Some facts about snot will amaze you, some facts about boogers may astound you. Wow your friends and families with these 7 gross health facts about mucus, phlegm, and boogers.

Facts About Mucus, Phlegm And Boogers

It's Snot Funny

Yes, snot is wet and runny, but it's not funny. In fact, it actually has a really important job to do, explains Spencer C. Payne, MD, an associate professor of rhinology and endoscopic sinus surgery at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. "Snot's purpose is to keep the lining of the nose moist," he said. "The drier the lining, the more prone you are to infection." Think of mucous as a blanket that protects the surfaces of your nose and mouth and traps bacteria and allergens before they can hit your airways and cause symptoms. Snot and phlegm are actually replete with all sorts of potent antiviral, antibacterial, and other protective chemicals that work to keep you healthy.

Everybody Boogies

Adults get an average of two to four colds a year, mostly between September and May, and young children catch an average of six to eight colds a year, according to the American Lung Association. The body responds to the virus that causes a cold by making snot and phlegm – and lots of it! Here's another fact about boogers: Snot that is dried by the air becomes a boogie.

Sneezes And Snot Travel Fast

"Sneezes travel 30 to 60 miles an hour, and can fly 30 feet through the air," Dr. Payne said. The good news is that most colds aren't transmitted by breath alone. "Your risk goes up if you touch a surface with germs and then touch your face," he said. "Sharing the same air isn't going to make you catch a cold." But you do want to wash your hands regularly to avoid snot and illness it can lead to.

You Make A Lot Of Mucus

"Your nose and sinuses make a liter of mucous a day," Payne said. At 34 ounces, that's a lot of snot and phlegm. (For reference, a Big Gulp has just 28 ounces.) "When you get a cold, it goes up even higher," he added, and it takes longer to get rid of the extra mucous when you're sick. Here's why: Tiny, hair-like growths called cilia move back and forth to move the mucus out of the sinuses and the nose. "This process usually takes 10 minutes, but when you are sick, the cilia are inflamed, and they slow down," explained Payne. More mucous plus slower clearance equals more cold misery and lots more tissues.

Don't Judge A Booger By Its Colour

If your boogers and snot are green, you have a bacterial infection, right? Wrong. That's a booger myth, not a fact about boogers, said Len Horovitz, MD, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. When germs that cause colds first infect the nose and sinuses, we make clear mucus to wash them out. After two or three days, the immune cells fight back and the mucous changes to a white or yellow colour. As bacteria in the nose come back, they may also be found in the mucous, which changes it to a greenish colour. This is normal. When snot is watery and clear and stays that way, it's a viral process, but Dr. Horovitz said that even if it's yellow or green, it can still be viral. "It's not just colour," he said. "There is a constellation of findings that go into determining what is driving the symptoms." These may include fever or swollen lymph nodes.

Snot And Boogers Don't Always Respond To Antibiotics

If you have green or yellow boogers, don't rush to antibiotics," says Satish Govindaraj, MD, an assistant professor of otolaryngology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Overuse of antibiotics is leading to resistance and super bugs, which means that these potent medications may not work for you if you do develop a bacterial infection and really need them. Antihistamines can also make things worse before they get better. "They will make the mucus thicker and harder to drain," he said, suggesting that instead you try Mucinex, an over-the-counter drug that gets the mucous up and out.

Boogers And Snot Lose Power Eventually

If you sneeze and then touch a surface such as a telephone or computer, a virus in your snot can live for up to 24 hours," Horovitz said. "If someone touches it and then touches their face, they can get sick." Avoid this by washing your hands before you touch your face and wiping down surfaces with a disinfectant. Be vigilant, and you could just escape falling victim to a booger-filled cold this season.

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