No matter how important you are, or how famous, you get boogers. They fascinate children almost everywhere, and during our lifetimes our noses will produce thousands of them from the gallons of mucus we pump out. But what causes boogers and is there anycway you can get fewer of them?
Boogers are formed from a substance that performs a vital job in the body. It all starts with mucus, the sticky, slimy liquid that’s made by the mucus membranes inside your nose. A more colloquial name for mucus is snot. And it’s part of your body’s front line defense against infection.
Mucus is an effective barrier that prevents your lungs from getting damaged. Every time you breathe in through your nose you draw in a myriad of tiny particles including dust, dirt, pollen, bacteria, and viruses. If they were to reach your lungs they could cause irritation, infection, and possibly serious damage. But the mucus surrounds these small foreign bodies and stops them from getting to places that could cause you harm.
What’s that have to do with boogers?
Well, boogers are nothing more than dried out clumps of mucus containing all these small particles. Your body produces about a liter of “snot” every day – more if you have a cold. It starts off as a clear or white liquid, but it can be colored by dirt, debris, cigarette tar, and enzymes that are responsible for the production of antiseptic chemicals that fight germs.
After this stuff gets stuck inside the nose, the mucus surrounds it and some of the tiny hairs inside the nose called cilia (say: SIL-ee-uh). These hairs help move the mucus and the trapped stuff toward the front of the nose or towards the back of the throat, where it is eventually swallowed. When the mucus, dirt, and other debris left in the nose gets dry and clump together.
You’re left with a booger which most people reckon they should come out on a tissue. Though, some insist on a finger. But there’s good reason not to have a pick as boogers are full of germs, and the action can make your nose bleed.
Getting out of bed on frigid winter mornings is bad enough without having to deal with a bloody nose on top of it. But with all the harsh breathing the dry cold air and our tendency to crank up the heat at night, it’s a pretty common issue.
“Bloody mucus and nose bleeds during the winter are a direct result of the weather,” says Roheen Raithatha, M.D., an ear, nose, and throat specialist in New York. “The drier, colder air can cause cracks in the mucus membranes of the nose, which can lead to exposed blood vessels that can then bleed.”
So other than pack up and move to the hot, humid tropics, what can you do about it? Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. Start with the air you’re breathing all night and get a humidifier. If that’s not enough, Raithatha recommends trying a saline spray or ointment like Vaseline twice a day to help prevent those delicate mucous membranes from drying out.
If you choose to make your own saltwater solution, it’s important to use bottled water that has been distilled or sterilized. Tap water is acceptable if it’s been passed through a filter with a pore size of 1 micron or smaller or if it’s been boiled for several minutes and then left to cool until it is lukewarm.
If you still find yourself getting blindsided by bloody noses in the winter, use a decongestant spray like Afrin or Neosynephrine.
Nasal irrigation is a good thing, but as the old saying goes, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Rinsing out your sinuses washes out the bad, nasty bacteria and other critters that can cause infection. However, one study showed that when people do it too often, nasal irrigation might actually increase the risk of infection because it also washes away some of the protective substances that help prevent you from getting sick. So use your neti pot or other nasal irrigation device when you need it, but take a break from it when you feel better.
And in the end, it’s the picking part that could cause trouble, Raithatha said. Picking can irritate your nose. It might even cause a little bleeding, which could open you up to more germs or infection. Germs may also spread from your nose to your hands and to other people.