Kelly has taught High School Science and Applied Communications. She holds an Education Specialist Degree in Ed. Leadership.
Mucous vs. Mucus
Mucous is the adjectival form of the more familiar noun, mucus. In other words, mucous is actually the action or ability to make mucus, the yucky stuff we blow into Kleenex. There are mucous cells, mucous fluid, mucous membranes, and mucous glands. They are all different objects that can secrete mucus. Mucus is the slimy substance that can be found in our respiratory system, digestive system, and reproductive system. Although it has a tendency to be highly annoying - especially during changes in weather - mucus is actually used to protect our bodies from the outside world.
Mucous membranes are found where outside invaders are able to get into our bodies. They secrete mucus as protection from potentially harmful invaders such as bacteria, viruses, or outside matter that can mess up our systems. The mucus from these layers can trap and remove invaders. Some mucus even contains antibodies that help to detect the different viruses and bacteria and send for back up from the rest of the body's immune system.
The mucus that is secreted by mucous objects lies on top of the tissues to not only protect it from invaders but also to keep the underlying tissue from drying out. If the tissue becomes dry, it becomes more fragile and can cause the organ to malfunction. Each system that produces mucus also uses mucus for its own purposes.
The main function of the respiratory system is to make an exchange between the air we breathe and our blood. We breathe in air, and our lungs take oxygen from it and deliver it into the blood. At the same time, our lungs also pick up waste from the blood and release it back to the outside world.
The air that enters our lungs can come with invaders that could do harm to the respiratory system. Therefore, mucus in that system has a huge job to keep harmful objects out of our lungs. The mucus acts like a sticky piece of fly paper that the invaders get stuck on. The mucus will then drain and take the invaders with it.
The lung tissue is also very thin. The thinnest part of the tissue is actually at the site of the exchange. Mucus plays a vital role of protecting this tissue not only from the invaders but from drying out. At normal function, the lungs feel kind of like a slimy moist sponge that expands and contracts smoothly. They would not be able to function properly as a dry sponge because they would not be able to expand and contract.
The digestive system is connected to the outside world through the food we eat. The mucus in our esophagus helps the food slide down easily. This helps to prevent the food from scratching our esophagus and also helps to prevent chocking.
The mucus in the digestive system also protects itself from its own dangerous elements. The digestive system uses very powerful chemicals to break down our food into usable nutrients. Without the layer of mucus created by the mucous membranes, these chemicals would eat right through the organs such as the stomach or the small intestines. So, the mucus is there to act as a barrier to prevent the chemicals from damaging the internal lining of the organs.
Mucous membranes can be found in both the male and female reproductive systems. In the male, they are found in the head of the penis and inside of the foreskin. In the female they are found in the clitoris and the clitoral hood. They are also found in the urethra. The mucus's purpose in the reproductive system is to trap pathogens and prevent any further disease activity from occurring.
When Mucus Goes Bad
On a normal day, a person can make 1-1.5 liters of mucus! This generally goes unnoticed because most of it drains down our throats. However, there are times when the consistency of the mucus changes, and we begin to notice. During these times, we don't necessarily make more of the sticky stuff. Instead, the mucus just becomes thicker and can no longer drain unnoticed. There are many irritants that might make our mucus thicken, such as a bad cold, allergies, infections, or hot peppers.
Mucus not only changes consistency, but it can also change colors. There are different reasons for different colors. Yellow and green could mean an infection. The green color can come from a greenish enzyme released from white blood cells. Red or brown could be from blood. The blood is usually caused from mass irritation.
Cystic fibrosis features mucus at its worst. It is a deadly genetic disorder that causes the mucus to be extra sticky and thick. The mucus can build up in large amounts in the lungs, prohibiting them from being able to make their vital exchange of oxygen to the blood. The mucus can also build up in the pancreas, an organ which breaks down the food and absorbs the nutrients. When the pancreas shuts down, the body will not be able to absorb the nutrients needed for survival.
Mucous is the adjective that describes an object's ability to create mucus. Mucus is the slimy substance that is vital for the human body to function. Mucous fluids, cells, tissues, and membranes are found throughout the respiratory system, digestive system, and the reproductive system. The mucus they produce is used to protect the tissues and organs from becoming dry and damaged and to protect our bodies from invaders that enter from the outside world. Although mucus is extremely vital, it can also become a nuisance, and in some cases, deadly.
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