When you catch a cold, you can expect your nose to either get super stuffy or start to run. If it runs, the mucus that makes its way out of your nose can be quite colorful. While you might expect it to be clear or (shudder) green, here’s what it really means when your nose runs yellow.
Whether you realize it or not, your body is constantly manufacturing mucus. In fact, it produces up to 1.5 quarts of the liquid daily (per Healthline). Most of it gets swallowed and ends up being dissolved in your stomach, but the rest of it acts as a protective barrier against dirt and infections for your sinuses and schnoz. And if you’re wondering what exactly makes up mucus, well, it’s mostly water with antibodies, salts, and proteins.
But so why the different colors? According to WebMD, a common misperception is that color in mucus results from bacteria. In fact, colorful mucus means the body is fighting.
Here's why your mucus is really yellow
Where the different color comes in has a lot to do with what’s happening with the rest of your body. Mucus is normally clear and colorless with a thin consistency. However, when your snot starts to thicken and turn other shades, such as white, that’s when it can be a true sign that something is starting in your sinuses. White mucus indicates the presence of more immune cells (via Very Well Health).
And then, there’s the yellow stuff. When you spy some yellow snot in your tissue, it might be alarming, but it shouldn’t be. Basically, it means that yes, you definitely have a cold or other illness, but your body is doing its best to battle it. Your mucus turns yellow because it’s full of white blood cells (specifically, neutrophils), which your body is sending to fight off the illness (via Self). At some point, your mucus might turn green, or even red — if you have been blowing your nose too much.
Thankfully, if you’ve got a cold, the condition should only last between a week to ten days. But if you’ve got a fever in addition to yellow mucus that lasts for three to four consecutive days, you might want to call your doctor to schedule an appointment. Once you’re on the way to recovery, your snot should return to its normal color and consistency again.
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