What Are Boogers—And Why Does Your Body Make Them?
You probably heard a lot of jokes about boogers growing up and were taught some basic booger hygiene rules (don't dig into your nose and play with them, for starters). But what exactly are boogers—and why do our bodies make them? Health put the question to doctors who deal with nose and respiratory issues to find out all the facts.
What are boogers, and what are they made from?
"Boogers are just pieces of dried mucus trapped in the nose," Philip Chen, MD, an associate professor of otolaryngology and rhinology at the University of Texas Health San Antonio, tells Health.
Boogers are formed when air passes through your nostrils, Cory Fisher, DO, a family medicine physician at Cleveland Clinic, tells Health. "The body's natural liquid secretions get trapped in the hairs of the nose, and air that passes through nasal breathing dries them up," explains Dr. Fisher.
Why do we have boogers, and what colors are normal?
Gross as they are, boogers actually help keep you healthy. The mucus boogers are made from help trap airborne dirt, dust, and debris you inhale through your nose from reaching your lungs. This explains why boogers are sometimes off white, yellow, even greenish; their color reflects the aerosolized particles they block. "Boogers nearly always have some color to them and should not be cause for alarm," Dr. Chen says. "Yellow, brown, and green tints are normal, [and] if you're exposed to air pollution or smoke, it can be black."
Boogers boost your health in another way: the mucus in your nostrils helps keep infectious microbes, like bacteria and viruses, from getting into your airway and making you sick.
Your body making boogers is totally normal, and this does not mean that you're sick. However, infections can cause your body to produce more of them, per the National Health Institutes, which explains infections can cause the mucus membranes that line your nose to become inflamed, leading to a higher-than-normal amount of mucus.
Why is it important to not pick your boogers?
You know not to pick your nose, and it might be less tempting to do so if you understand why. Putting a finger on or inside your nostril can inadvertently transmit any bacteria or viruses on that finger into your nose, creating the perfect scenario for an infection, according to the US National Library of Medicine. For example, you touched a surface, like a doorknob, that contained the common cold virus. When you put that same unwashed finger in your nose to flick out a booger, you also transferred viral particles into your system.
It works the other way, too: putting your fingers in your nose can transmit viruses and bacteria from your boogers to other surfaces you touch afterward, thus potentially making others sick. "[Boogers] can contain infectious agents like viruses and bacteria, so don't try to pick these out with your finger," Dr. Fisher explains. "Use a tissue to blow your nose and wash your hands shortly thereafter," he advises. And if you need even more convincing to keep your hands out of your nose: Picking your nose can cause nosebleeds, states the Cleveland Clinic.
What should you do if your nose feels clogged with boogers, and when should you see a doctor?
A number of things can cause enough boogers to form in your nostrils that you feel stuffed up, including sinusitis, allergies, or a cold, Dr. Chen says. (Also worth noting: Having a stuffy nose doesn't mean you're necessarily sick; dry air can also cause the sensation.)
If you feel like you can't breathe through your nose, your first line of defense should be a saline rinse, he suggests. Saline rinses allow you to flush out your nasal cavities; they typically involve flushing the rinse through each of your nostrils. You can buy one over the counter or make your own saline rinse, per the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, which provides a recipe. "The saline rinse will clear away any mucus and also help to shrink down the nasal turbinates, [which are] soft tissues on the outside of the nasal passage," Dr. Fisher explains.
Taking a nasal decongestant can also get rid of mucus and boogers if the saline rinse doesn't help, Dr. Fisher suggests, but he cautions against taking them for more than three to four days. That's because they can cause something called rebound congestion—aka rhinitis medicamentosa, or inflammation in the nose brought on by the overuse of topical nasal decongestants. If the saline rinse and nasal decongestants don't help, consider checking in with your primary care physician.
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