Decoding Mucus Color: Yellow, Green, Brown, and More

What the color of your snot says about your health

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Mucus can turn different colors for a variety of reasons. White snot can occur with a cold, for example, and pink boogers can be a sign of pregnancy. And while green or yellow snot may indicate a bacterial infection—and a need for antibiotics—it can also signal that your body is on the mend.

This article discusses the various colors your discharge can take on—clear, white, yellow, green pink, red, orange, brown, and black—and their possible causes. It also helps you determine if it's time to see a healthcare provider.

Verywell / Theresa Chiechi

Clear Mucus

Mucus is made by mucus glands, which are located in the mouth, nose, throat, stomach, intestines, and vagina. Healthy, normal mucus is clear and made up of water, salt, proteins, and antibodies. Your body makes about 1.5 quarts daily to lubricate tissues and flush out germs.

You may have an especially runny nose with clear snot:

Rarely, watery nasal discharge can result from a leak of cerebrospinal fluid, the fluid that surrounds and cushions the brain. This can be due to trauma or certain medical conditions. Get emergency medical help if you have watery discharge along with:

  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Stiff neck
  • Light or noise sensitivity
  • Headaches that get better or worse with a change in position

White Mucus

White mucus is often associated with a cold or other infection that causes a stuffy nose. When you're congested, inflammation in your nose makes it harder for the snot to flow out. It starts to become dry, making it cloudy and thick.

It may also turn white due to the presence of immune cells that your body sends to battle the illness.

Yellow Mucus

Yellow phlegm means your illness is progressing normally. The color change is due to the death of the white blood cells that came to fight off germs, which the snot is helping wash away. The texture may be drier and thicker than normal.

Yellow snot may also mean you have allergies. Allergens irritate the nasal passages, which can lead to the production of thick, pale yellow phlegm that runs down the back of the throat and causes coughing.

Green Mucus

Green, thick snot means your body is fighting a hard battle. Even more depleted immune cells and waste products are being flushed out, making your nasal discharge appear dark.

Green mucus isn't a reason for immediate concern. But if you're still sick after about 10 days, it could mean that you could have a bacterial infection.

Do Yellow or Green Snot Mean I Need Antibiotics?

Maybe, maybe not. In the past, healthcare providers sometimes prescribed antibiotics when someone had yellow or green mucus "just to be on the safe side." But antibiotics don't help the common cold, which is only caused by viruses. In addition, antibiotic overuse is linked to antibiotic-resistant infections. These drugs are prescribed more carefully today.

Pink or Red Mucus

When you have pink or red mucus, it likely means there's blood in your nose. This can be caused by:

  • Blowing your nose a lot
  • Picking your nose
  • Getting hit in the nose
  • Dry nasal passages due to illness or weather
  • Pregnancy

Blood in the nose is more common if you live in a dry climate or at a high elevation.

Having asthma or allergies can also cause blood in your nose. A constantly runny nose can irritate nasal passages and cause one of the tiny capillaries in your nose to burst.

If you've had some sort of trauma to your nose or face, such as a car accident, you should see a healthcare provider right away. Other reasons to seek medical help include:

  • Prolonged bleeding for more than 30 minutes
  • Heavy bleeding, or more than a tablespoon of blood
  • Difficulty breathing with a bloody nose

Brown or Orange Mucus

Brown mucus could result from dried blood getting mixed in. Your boogers can also turn brown or orange if you inhale something like dirt, a red spice such as paprika, or tobacco (snuff).

This color doesn't typically result from illness.

Black Mucus

Black mucus is rare and means you should see a healthcare provider right away. It is often a sign of a fungal infection that needs to be treated. These infections can cause serious symptoms and some forms require surgery.

Most healthy people aren't susceptible to these infections. They're more common, although still somewhat rare, in people with an immune system that is weakened due to illness or medication.

Other potential causes of black snot include:

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Use of illegal drugs

Don't just assume you have black snot because you're a smoker, though. Because a fungal infection can be dangerous, it's important to find out for sure whether you have one.

Mucus Color and COVID-19

Most people do not express mucus while they have COVID-19. But those with severe COVID-19 who develop acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) may have a buildup of phlegm in the lungs. This mucus is thick and concentrated, and cannot be coughed up like the sputum that's related to the flu or common cold.

When Should You Be Concerned?

In addition to the above-mentioned instances of when to get emergency care, it may be time to make an appointment to see a healthcare provider if you have yellow or green snot in addition to any of the following:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dehydration
  • A prolonged fever of at least 102 degrees F
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Severe vomiting
  • Feeling faint
  • Swollen gland in the neck or jaw
  • Pain and pressure in your sinuses and face
  • Symptoms that persist for more than 10 days
  • A pattern in which you start to feel better and then get sick again (this is a sign of a secondary infection, such as a bacterial infection after a virus)

You may want to contact a health care provider if your child has yellow or green snot and other symptoms, including:

  • A fever above 103 degrees F
  • Fever that lasts for more than three days
  • Trouble breathing, fast breathing, or wheezing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Earache or drainage
  • Vomiting or stomach pain
  • Seizures
  • Irritability

Your healthcare provider can determine what over-the-counter or prescription medicine is best to help relieve your symptoms.

While mucus is associated with bacteria, it's important to remember that bacteria are present in your body all the time. Some make you sick and some don't. Just because they're in your phlegm doesn't necessarily mean they're problematic—or that you need antibiotics to get better.

For example, bacterial infection only occurs in between 0.5% and 2% of rhinosinusitis cases. Many sinus infections go away on their own without antibiotics, but some do require treatment.


Changes in mucus color, from clear to white to yellow to green, are part of the normal course of an illness. It's a sign that your immune system is fighting to get better.

Pink, red, orange, or brown snot, on the other hand, is typically not from an illness. It may just mean that there is blood or dried blood in your nose. If you have black mucus, which is rare, it may signal a fungal infection and you need to see a healthcare provider.

10 Sources
Verywell Health 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.
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Additional Reading

By Kristina Duda, RN
Kristina Duda, BSN, RN, CPN, has been working in healthcare since 2002. She specializes in pediatrics and disease and infection prevention.