One of the hardest parts of being a parent is being responsible for the health of someone other than yourself. Even without extensive medical knowledge, adults can usually ascertain whether something’s wrong just based on how they feel. Kids, on the other hand, can be either too young to verbalize how they feel, or simply just not as in tune with what their bodies are trying to tell them.
Luckily for parents, there is one reliable way to gauge whether your child has a common cold or a more serious infection that requires medical care: examining their mucus.
We’ve created this guide to tell you everything you need to know about mucus and what to look for when your child is ill. This may not be for the faint of heart, but then again, neither is parenthood!
What is mucus?
Mucus is an adhesive, gel-like substance produced by the mucous membrane for the purpose of lubricating the lining of the digestive and respiratory tracts. The discharge in the nasal passages is often colloquially referred to as snot, while the mucus produced by the upper and lower respiratory system is known as phlegm. Mucus can also be found in diarrhea.
Nasal Mucus (Snot)
Both runny and congested noses are caused by excessive mucus being produced to push foreign invaders out of the passages. These foreign substances can either be allergens or viral, bacterial, or fungal infections. A viral infection is what causes the common cold while a viral, bacterial, or fungal infection could cause sinusitis, bronchitis, or pneumonia – all more serious infections that can affect the respiratory system and cause phlegm production. Nasal mucus that is clear in color represents a very mild infection or allergy. If your snot is light to dark green in color, it indicates that a stronger infection is present in your body and should be treated by a doctor.
Phlegm is the mucus-containing substance produced by the respiratory system in response to irritants like allergens, viruses, bacteria, environmental toxins, and pollution. Unlike nasal mucus, phlegm is a stronger indicator of disease and is often made up of bacteria, debris, and sloughed-off inflammatory cells. Like nasal mucus, phlegm is also essential in expelling foreign irritants. It lubricates the respiratory organs and passageways in order to facilitate the coughing up of sputum (what phlegm is called when it’s been coughed up).
Clear sputum is usually a sign of a mild viral infection or allergy. Yellow or cloudy sputum is a sign of a bacterial infection. Dark yellow or green sputum indicates the presence of pus or dead white cells, meaning that the body is working to fight off a bacterial infection. Bloody phlegm could be a sign of bleeding in the lungs associated with pneumonia or tuberculosis.
Diarrhea with Mucus
Diarrhea with mucus can be a sign of an inflammatory condition like Crohn’s Disease, or food allergies, food poisoning, or an infection of the digestive tract. Serious or persistent diarrhea requires medical treatment by a doctor.
Have you ever been tipped off to a condition requiring medical care based on the color of your mucus?
Sources: healtharticles101.com, localhealth.com, and wikipedia.org