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What You Need to Know About Dark Yellow Mucus

It can be alarming to blow your nose and see color in your tissue, especially if that color is closer to green or dark yellow. Is this a sign of illness? Learn the truth about dark yellow mucus and what it means..

Woman blows her nose into a tissue

What Color is Mucus Supposed to Be?

While you may think of snot as gross, a better way to think of it as a moisturizer for your whole body.1 Mucus is found within parts of your body that come into contact with outside elements, such as the lining of the nose, mouth and sinuses.1 These soft tissues can dry out easily if they aren’t kept moist, so your body creates mucus to serve as a moisture barrier that keeps these tissues healthy.1 It lubricates your esophagus so that the foods you eat have an easier time making it to the stomach and it coats the inside of your stomach to protect it from the effects of naturally occurring acid.

Your mucus also serves as a physical barrier for your body. It traps things like dust, pollen and bacteria and prevents them from entering your body.1 What’s more, your mucus also contains white blood cells and antibodies, so in addition to trapping harmful bacteria, it can also neutralize them and keep you from getting sick.1So while you may think of your snot as an indicator of illness, in most cases it’s functioning as a part of your immune system and keeping you from getting sick!

No matter if you call it mucus, snot or boogers – it may appear in nearly any color.2 When you’re healthy, your snot should be clear.2 If you have a runny nose and your mucus is clear, this may be a signal of allergies or that you’ve breathed in something that has caused your nose to start running.2 While no one likes a runny nose, clear snot is a sign that your body is healthy and protecting you from irritants.

What Does it Mean if my Snot Isn’t Clear?

When your snot is a different color, you should take note. In some cases, it may mean that your body is working to fight off an infection, and in others it may simply mean that you inhaled some dirt that was in the air. However, while the color of your mucus can indicate when something is happening in your body, the shade of your nasal discharge cannot accurately indicate whether you have a viral or bacterial infection, or whether you’re dealing with an infection at all.1

What About Dark Yellow Mucus?

Since the mucus in your nasal and sinus cavities functions as a part of your immune system, it’s responsible for the color change you see in your snot. Think about the common cold, for instance; your initial runny nose may feature an increase of mucus that’s clear or watery, but as you get sicker, it may become thicker and more opaque.3 This change in color and thickness is due to an increase in the number of immune cells and their enzymes.3

When the white blood cells in your mucus encounter an irritant or an infectious organism, the produce extra enzymes which contain iron, to help expel the intruder.1 This inclusion of iron is what’s responsible for the color change in your snot, which may make it appear green or dark yellow.1 As the mucus becomes more concentrated, which typically happens when you’re sleeping, it may take on an even darker shade.1

Managing Excess Mucus

Whether the invader within your system is bacteria or a virus, as mucus that’s reacting with white blood cells sits in your sinus cavity it becomes more concentrated in color, leading to dark yellow mucus.1 The way you manage your mucus may depend on what’s going on with you. In some cases, rest and hydration may be all you need. Other times you may want to manage your symptoms with medications. If your dark yellow mucus is accompanied by fever and body aches, reach for Robitussin Maximum Strength Severe Multi-Symptom Cough Cold + Flu and feel better, faster. If your increased mucus has brought on a cough and sore through pain, reach for Robitussin Medi-Soothers for relief that lasts for hours.

Source Citations:

  1. Don’t judge your mucus by its color. Harvard Health. Accessed 8/17/23.
  2. What the color of your snot means. OSF Healthcare. Accessed 8/17/23.
  3. Mayo Clinic Q and A: Natal mucus color – what does it mean? Mayo Clinic News Network. Accessed 8/17/23.
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