Archive for March, 2018
The nasal fluid produced by your body is known as mucus, although it has many more colorful names which younger people are especially fond of using. Contrary to popular belief, nasal fluid is not an offensive fluid from the body, and is not something that should be thought of as poorly as it is. In truth, nasal fluiid is one of the body’s most important lines of defense, playing a critical role in the protection against infections and various types of irritants.
What Exactly is Mucus?
Everyone is aware that our noses are used to smell things, but that’s certainly not the only role they play in human health. Their role, which not many people actually consider, is as a protection against inbound irritants, and in this capacity, mucus is one of the most important agents involved in the protection process.
Most people recognize mucus as a runny, nasty-looking substance that often dribbles out of the nose, but in actuality, it’s a very complex substance that works hard to keep sinuses and the interior of the nose moist. There are components of mucus which determine its thickness, elasticity, and stickiness, all of which are important in its role as defender against incoming irritation. Most people produce between one pint and one quart of mucus each and every day.
What Mucus Does
The primary role of mucus is to trap incoming irritation such as animal dander, pollen, mold, smoke, and bacterial substances. By smoothing the lining of the nose and trapping all these types of foreign substances and debris, they are prevented from reaching the interior respiratory system where a great deal of damage could be done. The vast majority of mucus is simply swallowed, along with all the material that it may have trapped. Whatever those foreign substances were, they become neutralized in the gastrointestinal tract, and are then expelled from the body.
This is the more invisible component of mucus removal, and not the one people commonly associate with the process. The more visible process for mucus removal is blowing your nose into a handkerchief, and this of course removes all unwanted material without the need for having it processed in the interior of the body. However, as stated above, this occurs far less frequently than the swallowing process, where most unwanted debris is managed.
Normal Mucus Content
Most of the time, people don’t really think about mucus or what is contained in it, and this is perfectly normal, because it should be unnoticeable if everything in the body is as it should be. Healthy mucus is colorless and is typically quite watery and thin. In the absence of any disease or infections in the body, the cilia of the nose move very gently in tiny waves to move mucus, along with any trapped materials, toward the back of the throat.
These cilia have been compared to tiny brooms which sweep materials clear of nasal passages to keep the breathing process running smoothly. When sinuses are in a good state of health, they are typically empty, because these cilia are working constantly to remove mucus and trapped materials. The end result of this constant sweeping is that the mucus is ushered toward drainage openings into the nasal cavity, and from there it can either be expelled by blowing the nose, or it will simply be swallowed and processed in the gastrointestinal tract.
Indicators of Mucus Problems
There are several indicators which tell you there’s some kind of problem with mucus, often because it’s associated with an infection. Since mucus is normally clear, if you should observe that it becomes yellow, brown, green, gray, white, or even bloody, this could be a sign of a major infection from bacteria, virus, or fungus particles.
The reason for this color change is that the white blood cells in mucus produce enzymes to repel invaders when they encounter any kind of infectious organism. The enzymes produced by the mucus have a tendency to turn it green, and if that remains in place overnight, it can then change into several other colors as described above.
Another indicator of a problem with mucus is the amount that the body generates. Healthy people will generally have clear-colored mucus, and will not even notice any amounts that are produced by the body, since all the work is carried on in the background. Whenever you begin to cough up significant amounts of mucus, that is a likely indicator of an allergic reaction or some kind of infection.
The thickness of mucus is also a frequent indicator of ill health, because thick mucus can clog the throat and become noticeable as it impacts the voice. Thick mucus inhibits vocal cord movement, and the associated post-nasal drip may cause persistent coughing, as well as changes in taste or in smell.
There may also be a burning sensation in the throat because mucus is dripping down the throat, and since it’s naturally acidic, that can be an irritation to the lining of the throat. That’s why it’s very common for someone to wake up with a sore throat when there’s some kind of infection occurring in the body – mucus drainage, which has occurred during sleep hours, has caused noticeable irritation in the lining of the throat.
People who have hyperacusis hear things a little differently than people with relatively normal hearing. With this medical condition, ordinary sounds like running water, the ticking of a clock, or the timer alarm on your microwave not only sound extremely loud, but also can actually be painful. This doesn’t mean that their hearing is more acute, or that patients with this condition are able to hear more sounds than the rest of us – it just means that all normal sounds you may hear in a typical day are heard at a higher level of volume. This is not just a temporary inconvenience a with minor impact; it can literally have a profound effect on a person’s quality of life, because the condition doesn’t ever take a break – it’s there all the time.
How Does Hyperacusis Develop?
Scientists are not exactly sure what causes this condition to develop in any one person, but studies which have been conducted seem to point to exposure to one of several triggering conditions as a cause. One of the most prominent of these is noise related to a daily job routine: for instance, someone working in a factory with heavy machinery, or where a repetitive loud noise recurs throughout the eight-hour shift.
Traumatic head injuries are another possible cause of hyperacusis, with many of today’s hyperacusis patients having experienced some significant blow to the head in their past. Chronic ear infections are another culprit, because even though they can be cleared up with medication, the damage they do while the infection is rampaging can persist beyond the duration of the infection itself.
Migraine headaches are thought to be another possible cause of hyperacusis, since many current hyperacusis patients also experience migraines, or have had them in their medical history. There also seems to be a correlation between patients who have contracted Lyme disease or TMJ Syndrome in their past, although it is not known exactly what from those two conditions leads to the development of hyperacusis. Lyme disease is spread by a tick which can commonly be found in fields and woods, and may be brushed up against by a person. Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Syndrome is a disorder which causes pain in the muscles and joints of the jaw.
As far as the physiology behind the actual triggering of hyperacusis, that’s the part of the equation that scientists and researchers have yet to confirm. At present, it seems likely that the fibers of the ear which regulate sound have been somehow compromised, and that the auditory nerve has suffered significant damage. Another school of thought holds that the brain’s central processing system affects how the brain evaluates sound, and for some reason magnifies it beyond its true level. And naturally enough, since there are primarily these two major theories about what actually happens in hyperacusis, there is also another group of scientists who believe that a combination of those two is the real answer to the problem.
Relationship to Tinnitus
While most people have probably not heard of hyperacusis, the medical condition of tinnitus is probably much more well-known. While these two conditions are not at all same thing, they do have a relationship, in that both represent departures from the norm in the way that sounds are heard. People with tinnitus experience several different abnormal sounds in their hearing, sometimes even when there is no actual noise being generated in the surroundings.
This can be felt as a ringing noise, or some kind of whistling, hissing, or buzzing, and it’s easy to see how this can be so distracting that a person’s quality of life could easily be diminished. Although hard statistics are not available to support this, it is estimated that more than 60% of patients who have tinnitus also have hyperacusis. So in addition to hearing a persistent buzzing or whistling sound in the ears, a patient who experiences both of these medical conditions would also sense ordinary sounds at several times their true volume.
Having either one of these medical conditions could have a profound impact on your daily life, but just imagine being troubled by both of them at the same time! Patients who are known to suffer from both medical conditions generally find it extremely hard to just get through a normal day. As a result, there’s a strong tendency for such individuals to withdraw from life to a significant extent, and become socially isolated. This in turn, can easily slide into depression and add to the list of medical conditions the individual would have to deal with.
Treatment for Hyperacusis
Treating hyperacusis requires a two-pronged approach, but it does not really result in a cure for the condition. People who have hyperacusis are generally counseled so as to help lower their reactions to loud sounds, and a process known as acoustic therapy helps to retrain the ear to hear sounds at a more normal level. While there are no actual medical or surgical procedures at present which can offer significant help, some success has been achieved by the counseling/retraining program. Not surprisingly, the same approach has been used with tinnitus, with similar success.