All Stuffed Up for the Holidays

There’s a lot of “stuff” this time of year – the stuffing in turkey, for example, or all that meaningless commercial stuff we buy for the holidays that ends up in landfills. The holidays are a good time to look around and judge what’s good and what’s bad. It might disappoint some readers to learn that the “stuff” we want to look at this week is the mucus in your nose.
There can be a whole lot of that sticky, runny, or clogged stuff this time of year. A very stuffy nose can be a symptom of problems. Our thoughts are with the many concerned families dealing with young children who are battling respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
“The hallmark of RSV is that it causes excessive mucus production, which causes you to blow your nose more frequently,” says Dr. Magna Dias, pediatrician at Yale Medicine. Luckily for most children this is the worst, while for those with weakened immune systems hospitalization is necessary, as we are now witnessing.
A little prevention? There is no downside to taking vitamin C in higher doses than normally recommended. And if an infection occurs, why not prime an immune system with extra C and fuel it with high doses 2-3 times a day?
But don’t be alarmed by some mucus in your nose. It is normal. It may not be visible when you cough it up or sneeze, but phlegm is good for you.
In fact, mucus is a functional part of the mouth, sinuses, throat, lungs, and gastrointestinal system. It is mostly water but also contains antibodies that attack viruses, bacteria and allergens. Without enough mucus, infections have an advantage.
The sticky quality of mucus helps it trap dust before it reaches the lungs. The mucous element helps push food down the esophagus and protects the stomach lining from acid. There is also a sexy element of mucus found in cervical secretions.
The average person produces an amazing 4 cups of mucus a day! Most of it is swallowed without notice.
The color is an indication of whether slime is “normal” or the harbinger of an unwanted visit. Clear mucus means good health. Yellow or green indicates a viral infection. Brown or red indicates the presence of blood, possibly caused by inflammation or trauma to a finger.
You don’t pick your nose? It’s rare who doesn’t. Studies show that almost all people pick their nose about four times a day. But it’s not a clean habit. Mixed with dead skin cells and dirt under your fingernails, it’s possible to find nasty things like bacteria that cause pneumonia and urinary tract infections, and even salmonella and E. coli.
Leave that healthy slime alone as much as possible.
A better pastime is to admire the innovative use of slime in the animal kingdom. Snail slime helps with protection and propulsion. Some snails use slime to levitate themselves in the air for a remarkable mating feat. Not surprisingly, there is a robust market for snail slime in Chinese and Korean medicine and cosmetics.
There is also research that suggests that dolphins use the mucus in their nasal passages below their blowholes to create their highest frequency clicks.
Dolphins, snails and fish live in humid places. However, we humans have to survive through the dry winter air. The lack of moisture can make our noses drier than other times of the year. Drinking more water helps.
And if your nose tickles, grab a handkerchief.
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