What Are Boogers—And Why Does Your Body Make Them?

Crazy as it sounds, boogers are good guys when it comes to good health.

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 healthcare providers who deal with nose and respiratory issues to get the facts.

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What Are Boogers and What Are They Made of?

"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, told Health.

Boogers are formed when air passes through your nostrils, Cory Fisher, DO, a family medicine physician at Cleveland Clinic, told 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," explained Dr. Cory Fisher.

The Color of Boogers

Gross as they are, the mucus that leads to boogers helps keep you healthy.

The mucus boogers are made to help trap the airborne dirt, dust, and debris you inhale through your nose from reaching your lungs. This explains why boogers are sometimes off-white, yellow, or 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. Philip Chen said. "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.

Producing boogers is totally normal and does not mean you're sick. However, infections can cause your body to produce more of them, and 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 Not to Not Pick

You know not to pick your nose—medically known as rhinotillexomania—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.

For example, you touch a surface, like a doorknob, that contains the common cold virus. When you put that same unwashed finger in your nose to flick out a booger, you also transfer 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. Cory Fisher advised. "Use a tissue to blow your nose and wash your hands shortly thereafter," Dr. Cory Fisher said.

And if you need even more convincing to keep your hands out of your nose: Picking your nose can cause nosebleeds.

Treatment for a Clogged Nose

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. Philip Chen said. But 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, Dr. Philip Chen said. 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. "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. Cory Fisher explained.

Taking a nasal decongestant can also get rid of mucus and boogers if the saline rinse doesn't help, Dr. Cory Fisher said, but he cautioned 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 a healthcare provider.

A Quick Review

Boogers, which are just dried pieces of nasal mucus, may be gross, but that mucus is pretty important. The mucus traps the dirt, dust, and microbes in the air you breathe and prevents them from reaching your lungs. It can be yellow, green, or brown because of the stuff that gets trapped,

And don't pick your nose—you could introduce any germs on your finger into your body to make you sick, or you could pass on the germs in your mucus to someone else.

If your nose is stuffed, use a tissue and then wash your hands. You can also try a saline rinse or nasal decongestant to clear that clog.

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4 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. NIH News in Health. Marvels of Mucus and Phlegm.

  2. MedlinePlus. Common Cold.

  3. FamilyDoctor. Nosebleeds.

  4. American Acacdemy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. Saline Sinus Rinse Recipe.

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