• Sara Thompson

Snot Funny; We Really Need It.

By Sara Thompson

Special to the Enterprise

Young person blowing their nose in front of yellow flowers
Allergies produce more mucus in our sinuses.

Wintertime is cold and flu season and also bring on the sniffles in many of us. Even without being sick, our noses may get stuffy or runny when it gets cold. The stuff in our noses is called mucus, and our bodies produce it naturally year-round. We make mucus not only in our noses, but in many other places in our bodies. It covers the parts of your body exposed to air, but not covered by skin. This includes the inside of our noses, eyes, lungs, and even our digestive system. But what is its purpose and why is there always more of it in the winter?


In all of the places that make mucus, it helps to protect those systems from foreign bodies that could do us harm. Dust, pollen, bacteria, and even viruses can get trapped in the mucus, stopping them from invading our bodies. Our eyes have a thin mucus layer that helps keep them moist and protect against foreign bodies. Mucus is also in our digestive tract. It helps with keeping our esophagus lubricated, allowing food to pass through safely. Mucus also lines the inside of the stomach, protecting it from digestive acids. Lastly, mucus lines our intestines to keep material moving easily and with regulating bacteria.


Most people associate mucus with our respiratory system. Our bodies make almost a liter of mucus in our sinuses each day. Most of it slides unnoticed into our digestive system and is broken down. Some is pushed towards the front of our nose by hair-like structures called cilia. Normal levels of mucus in our nose helps to keep it moist, but it also traps any dust, pollen, or other foreign bodies from getting in. If something gets trapped in the mucus in our noses our bodies can try to break it down with the rest of our immune system or tries to expel them, with a sneeze. Mucus in our lungs is called phlegm. If something makes it past the nose and gets into the lungs, the phlegm traps it and will expel it by making you cough.


Even with all of these protective layers in our bodies, viruses, bacteria, pollen, and more still invade our bodies and activate our immune systems. When we are sick or come in contact with an environmental allergen, such as pollen or dust, our bodies produce more mucus to help get rid of it and to protect against other substances in our weakened state. In many places, when it’s cold outside, it is also dry. Extra mucus keeps our noses and other parts moist so they can keep doing their job in keeping us healthy.

 

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