Little is worse than a stuffy-nosed, congested baby, except maybe a snot-dripping, gooey, rash-faced baby. Okay, so maybe they’re about equal as far as childhood annoyances go. Whether your baby is two days old or two years old and well into the toddler phase, he or she is bound to have boogers, snot, and mucus, and all the above are bound to be different colors. This leaves many parents to ponder one more odd thought, what do different baby booger colors mean?
Well, first, for trivia’s sake, what is a booger, exactly?
Inside every nose, a substance called mucus is formed from water, inorganic salts, enzymes, antibodies, and proteins. This slimy stuff is a vital component of the immune system and exists to catch germs and contaminants as we breathe in air, preventing them from reaching the lungs. Usually, tiny hairs within the nose move mucus down the throat, where it’s swallowed to lubricate the esophagus and protect the lining of the stomach. Boogers form when mucus dries up or mixes with contaminants and then becomes stuck in the nose.
Mucus starts clear but can change color depending on what it has trapped. When we become ill or encounter air contaminants, the body increases mucus production to help boot out whatever is making us sick, resulting in a snotty nose. Mucus production also goes into overdrive in the cold in an effort to keep the nasal passage warm, moist, and healthy. That’s why some babies get stuffy or runny noses even if they aren’t sick in the winter months.
What color can baby boogers be, and what do those colors mean?
Normal Mucus Colors
As mentioned, clear is the normal color of mucus. An excess amount of clear snot simply means something has triggered the body to make more mucus, such as allergies, a virus, bacteria, air contamination, or cold air. If your child frequently struggles with excessive clear snot or eye boogers, allergies are a likely culprit. Consider speaking with your pediatrician. While antihistamines and decongestants are not recommended for children under the age of 2, there may be steps you can take to help reduce your child’s symptoms, such as installing an air purifier or identifying and eliminating triggers where possible.
Cloudy Off-White or Dim Yellow Mucus
Mucus takes on a cloudy white appearance or yellow tint as it loses moisture content. This isn’t usually a sign of anything out of the ordinary and is pretty common. You may try a humidifier to help keep your child’s nose moist if you’re seeing frequent especially crusty, dry yellow boogers.
Snot Colors Common With Air Contamination
Dry Dark Green Mucus
Dried or clumpy green boogers are usually seen after a long day outside or someplace with some level of air contamination like a dusty room. Your child’s mucus is simply doing its job and catching all those bad things before they get to the lungs. Dried green boogers can be considered normal.
Black or Grey Mucus
Black or grey boogers are also caused by heavier air pollution and tend to be dry. In this case, ash, dust, and smoke are common culprits. For example, try checking your snot color after being around a campfire all day or in a room where people are smoking cigarettes. Playing in the dirt or even small flying bug particles can also cause black to grey mucus in kids.
Booger Colors That Suggest Viral or Bacterial Infection
Dark Yellow Mucus
If you’re seeing thick, dark yellow mucus (most common with nasal congestion), your child is likely fighting off a virus or bacteria. The darker yellow shade is often caused by discarded white blood cells and minor dehydration.
Bright yellow, especially a shade that could be described as “neon,” is almost always a sign of infection, most notably viral sinus infections, which may be accompanied by sinus pressure and headaches. This color booger means your child is sick or soon to be sick, but doesn’t always indicate a serious condition. Watch for signs of illness, such as coughing, fever, or difficulty breathing.
Bright Green Mucus
Runny green boogers or those of a neon green shade are usually a sign of a bacterial infection of some sort. Sometimes the tail end of sinus infection snot will turn a green color as well. Bright green boogers are another mucus color that usually indicates current or near-future sickness.
Note that neon, dark yellow, or green snot can also sometimes be a sign of nasal obstruction.
Nasal Passage Bleeding
Red, Orange, Pink, or Brown Mucus
If you’re finding red, orange, pink, or brown snot, this is a sign of nasal passage bleeding or irritation. Closer to brown indicates an older bleed and is caused by dried blood mixed with mucus. Closer to red means the bleed is more recent. Pink or orange snot is more common if the bleed is light and the snot is runny. Nose bleeds are not usually a cause for concern. All kids get them. However, if your child has very frequent brown, red, or bloody boogers, speak with your pediatrician. If brown to red mucus is being coughed up, this could be draining from the nose, or there may be a small bleed in the throat.
Diet-Related Mucus Colors
Thick White Mucus
Probably the rarest booger color in adults, sticky white snot is a more common color seen in babies over the age of 1. Thick white boogers are caused by excessive dairy intake, such as milk, while congested. Babies just over a year old generally still drink quite a bit of milk but often are no longer nursing or drinking formula. In kids or adults who drink less milk, white, thick, sticky boogers can be a sign of dehydration.
Other baby booger colors
Keep in mind that anything that is inhaled or eaten can affect booger color. For example, once my toddler sucked on one of those non-toxic washable markers and had purple snot. Foods heavy in food dye may also result in weird booger colors, like Kool-Aid.
There you have it, a what’s-that-color mean guide to baby booger colors. I would have loved to provide pictures of each for reference, but it seems nobody photos the gross, not-so-cute infection-like boogers. If you enjoyed this color-coded booger guide, check out this version on poop colors. If you have a toddler, you might also have need of some info on booger picking.