The human body has a battery of defenses for the intrepid pathogen or foreign contaminant that may wander into it. There is, of course, the stalwart immune system composed of proteins, cells, body organs, and tissues all working concurrently and interacting with each other to drive out whatever invader is currently plaguing the body. Aside from that, the human body also somewhat retains its “fight or flight” mechanism from its roots; for example, modern males are more likely to respond to an emergency situation with aggression (fight) while females are more likely to flee and turn to others for help (flight).
One of the lesser known defense systems of the body, and one that is also almost always viewed in a negative light, is mucus. In vertebrates, mucus is a substance that is produced by the mucous membranes. It is almost always sticky, viscous and slippery. Normally, it contains antiseptic enzymes and immunoglobulins designed to protect the cells in the important body systems namely the respiratory, urogenital, gastrointestinal and the visual and auditory systems. The human body is able to produce about a liter of mucus every day.
Mucus is created by the body primarily to rid itself of germs, bacteria, or other harmful foreign particles that may cause it harm. When caught in mucus, the unwanted material is simply spit out or excreted by the body. In particular, mucus functions in specific ways with the body’s different systems. For example, most people think that phlegm and mucus are one and the same, but this isn’t really so. Phlegm is just specialized mucus that is restricted solely to the respiratory tract. Mucus, on the other hand, is a more general term, used to describe the secretions of the different systems in the body that have the same characteristics.
In the respiratory system, mucus helps protect your lungs by filtering foreign particles that enter through the nose when you breathe. It has nasal mucus that is produced by the nasal mucosa and the mucus that lines the airways, which are produced by specialized airway cells called the goblet cells, and the submucosal glands. These mucus trap the small particles such as dusts, pollutants and infectious agents, preventing them from entering the lungs during breathing.
As an additional task, mucus also helps moisturize air that is taken in and prevents your nasal and airway epithelia from drying out. You produce nasal and airway mucus constitutively; the reason why you’re not excreting them out all the time is because most of them get swallowed unconsciously. The presence of mucus in your throat and nose is normal, but increased production is almost always a sign of illness in the respiratory tract, such as the common cold and the flu.
In the male reproductive system, mucus is a component of the semen, together with amino acids and fructose, serving as the main energy source for the sperm. In females, the cervical mucus prevents infection. Its consistency varies depending on the stage of the women’s menstrual cycle.
In the digestive system, mucus functions primarily as a lubricant for all the materials that pass through the membranes, such as the esophagus or the intestines. A particular layer of mucus is especially important in making sure that the inner lining of your stomach is protected from the highly toxic acids in it.
Getting Rid of Mucus
While mucus plays a very important role in the defense of the body, it can be a veritable pain when it goes wrong. You will find yourself drowning in your own bodily fluids. Also, anyone who has suffered a very bad cold knows how much trouble it is to even try to breath. It’s a good thing that there are steps you can take to get rid of it when mucus goes rogue.
- Treat any infection that you may have. The main reason why there will be an excess of mucus in your system is because it’s working overdrive in order to cope with an infection. Excess mucus in the respiratory system is a prime example. If you have an infection that affects normal passage to the airways and throat, like a cold or flu for example, mucus that is continually produced by your body doesn’t get drained down by the saliva, thus accumulating and bogging you down. Treating any infection is the first step to ensuring that you get your mucus back the way it’s supposed to work.
- Drink lots of fluids and liquids. Water and fluids help loosen or thin out any mucus that has hardened in your system. Once the mucus has thinned out enough, it is easier to flush out of your body. Fluids also help wash down any excess mucus, thereby lessening its chances of building up and coagulating. Also, the more fluids you take in, the more your body flushes liquid out and together with it, mucus and other waste.
- Take medications. There are antimucolytics available on the market today that are designed to thin and loosen up mucus. For example, expectorants such as guaifenesin and bromhexine are effective in clearing up any phlegm and mucus in your respiratory system. Ask your doctor for the correct medicine for your particular mucus problem.
- Humidify your environment. The environment is a huge factor in mucus production, especially that of the respiratory system. Use a dehumidifier or an air conditioner if you think that the air is contributing to your mucus problem.
- Eat a proper and healthy diet. Eating well will help boost up your immune systems, making them more active in combating whatever infection you currently have that may be causing the excess in mucus. Try to limit your intake of red meat, dairy products, or grains that might trigger excess mucus secretion.
If the mucus problem still doesn’t let up after a week or two, then it’s time that you have yourself checked by a doctor. It may already be a symptom of something that is far more serious than just your normal cough or cold.