This information is taken from our webinar “The Skinny on Snot” with Steven Horne, RH (AHG).
Let’s start by answering this question: what is mucus? Mucus is a thin, slippery secretion that coats mucus membranes. It is composed primarily of water with some glycoproteins to thicken it and make it slippery. Mucus also contains inorganic salts, antiseptic enzymes, immunoglobulins and proteins. Some of these compounds are part of the body’s infection-fighting system.
What Mucus Does
It forms a protective coating for the membranes of the respiratory and digestive tract. It also coats urogenital passages and is found in both the eyes and the ears. It protects these tissues from both particulate matter and infection.
Your Inner Skin
Mucus membranes can be thought of as your inner skin. Your body’s first line of defense is its protective barriers: Skin (approximately 2 sq. meters) and your Mucus Membranes (approximately 400 sq. meters). Mucus membranes are the largest surface area of the body and the most vulnerable. This is why mucus is so important that your body produces between one to one and a half liters per day.
Biological Terrain – The state of your body’s tissues. One of the easiest ways to see the biological terrain is to take a look at your respiratory membranes or inside your mouth. Herbs work best when applied to restore balance to the biological terrain. It’s easiest to understand biological terrain as it applies to the skin and mucus membranes because the signs of imbalance are more clearly seen.
There are three factors to look at when considering biological terrain. First, the temperature aspect (hot or cold). Hot means the tissue is irritated. It makes the tissue red and warmer in temperature. It is overactive. Cool is when the tissue becomes underactive, loses energy, pale in color. In between those is a pink tissue that has normal activity and is not overly warm or cool.
The second factor is moisture. Moisture has to do with the balance of fluids and solids in the body. Dampness is excess moisture, swollen. Dryness is deficient moisture, hardened mineral and tissue.
The last has to do with the tone of the tissues. When things become too constricted you have a blockage of flow (asthma, for example). Conversely, when tissues become too lax things tend to leak (bleeding, excessive drainage).
You can assess the biological terrain of the mucus membranes by examining:
- Mucus drainage from sinuses (blow your nose and see what comes out).
- Mucus coughed up from lungs
- Coating on the tongue
Normal mucus is thin, clear and forms a light coating over all mucus membranes. In the respiratory passages there are hair-like projections called cilia. Cilia sweep mucus from the sinuses to the back of the throat (post-nasal drip) and from the lungs into the throat.
When you have an abundant amount of thin, watery mucus you may have an acute irritation. This means that body has encountered something that is irritating it and is actively trying to flush it away.
White mucus is the sign you are becoming congested. Mucus is thickening and not moving as easily. This can be an early sign of an infection or the result of dehydration. In TCM this is considered “cold” mucus or phlegm. The body is flushing an irritant, but the mucus is congested and is no longer flowing freely. This is a condition of dampness, congestion or stagnation.
Brown mucus could be dried blood, but more likely it’s dirt or other materials that got inhaled and trapped in the mucus. That’s your mucus membranes doing their job.
Yellow/Green mucus means white blood cells are at work fighting off an infection. The yellow color is due to spent white blood cells being carried off in the mucus. This is considered “hot” phlegm in TCM. Green snot is caused by the presence of large numbers of neutrophils, which contain a greenish-colored enzyme. This means the immune battle is more serious and the infection could be bacterial, instead of viral. This is also considered “hot” phlegm in TCM.
If mucus is red or pink there is blood in the mucus. This means that there is minor bleeding from nasal membranes. It is typically the result of dryness (dehydration) and irritation, but can also be a sign of injury.
Black mucus can be from smoking or drugs. Otherwise it is a sign of a serious fungal infection. This is a sign to see a doctor right away, if you aren’t already doing so.
Hardened mucus occurs from mucus membranes being dried out due to smoking or dry air. This is a dry condition of the mucus membranes.
Deficient Mucus is a sign of chronic lung problems, often due to smoking, or dehydration. This is a dry condition of the mucus membranes.