Mucus Symptoms

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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What are the signs of mucus problems?

Mucus symptoms occur when the membranes lining the respiratory and digestive tracts produce excess mucus, often in response to an irritant or allergen, resulting in congestion, breathing difficulties, or diarrhea. It represents the body’s normal response to an uninvited irritant.

Mucus symptoms, such as runny nose and nasal congestion, are most commonly due to allergies or viral infections like the common cold. Bacterial, viral and fungal infections leading to sinusitis, bronchitis or pneumonia can also cause mucus symptoms of the respiratory system.

Many different gastrointestinal conditions and diseases cause mucus symptoms. Mucus symptoms may occur with inflammatory conditions, including Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disorder that can affect any part of the intestine. Food allergies, food poisoning, or infections affecting the digestive tract can also cause mucus symptoms of the gastrointestinal system. In these cases, mucus symptoms are often associated with diarrhea, abdominal pain, or cramping.

Mucus symptoms vary depending on the cause. Some disorders cause mild mucus symptoms that subside quickly, while others may cause severe congestion in the lungs or diarrhea that requires medical treatment.

In some cases, mucus symptoms may be a sign a serious or life-threatening condition. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if mucus symptoms are accompanied by serious symptoms, such as severe breathing problems, severe abdominal pain, and high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit).

If your mucus symptoms are persistent or cause you concern, seek prompt medical care.

What other symptoms might occur with mucus symptoms?

Mucus symptoms may accompany other symptoms that vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the mucous membranes may also involve other body systems.

Respiratory symptoms that may occur along with mucus symptoms

Mucus symptoms may accompany other symptoms affecting the respiratory system including:

  • Cough

  • Cough that gets more severe over time

  • Coughing up clear, yellow, light brown, or green mucus

  • Rapid breathing (tachypnea) or shortness of breath

  • Runny nose (nasal congestion)

  • Shortness of breath

  • Sneezing

  • Sore throat

  • Wheezing (whistling sound made with breathing)

Gastrointestinal symptoms that may occur along with mucus symptoms

Mucus symptoms may accompany other symptoms affecting the gastrointestinal system including:

  • Abdominal bloating

  • Abdominal pain or cramping

  • Blood-streaked stools

  • Diarrhea

  • Enlarged lymph nodes

  • Mucus or undigested food in feces

  • Nausea with or without vomiting

  • Watery diarrhea, including multiple episodes

Other symptoms that may occur along with mucus symptoms

Mucus symptoms may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, mucus symptoms may be symptoms of a life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms including:

What causes mucus symptoms?

Mucus symptoms, such as runny nose and nasal congestion, are most commonly due to allergies or the common cold. Bacterial, viral and fungal infections leading to sinusitis, bronchitis or pneumonia can also cause mucus symptoms of the respiratory system.

Many different gastrointestinal conditions and diseases also cause mucus symptoms, such as inflammatory bowel disease, which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis; food allergies; food poisoning; or infections affecting the digestive tract.

Respiratory system causes of mucus symptoms

Mucus symptoms may be caused by conditions affecting the respiratory system including:

  • Asthma and allergies

  • Bacterial infections

  • Bronchitis

  • Common cold (viral respiratory infection)

  • Cystic fibrosis

  • Hay fever or allergic reaction from animal dander, dust, cosmetics, or pollen

  • Influenza (flu)

  • Sinusitis (inflammation or infection of the sinuses)

Gastrointestinal causes of mucus symptoms

Mucus symptoms can also be caused by the gastrointestinal system including:

Serious or life-threatening causes of mucus symptoms

In some cases, mucus symptoms may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:

Questions for diagnosing the cause of mucus symptoms

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your mucus symptoms including:

  • Do any other family members have the same problem?

  • Do you have any other symptoms?

  • How long have you had your mucus symptoms?

  • What medications are you taking?

What are the potential complications of mucus symptoms?

Because mucus symptoms can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 1
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Diarrhea. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003126.htm
  2. Cough. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003072.htm
  3. Pillarisetti N, Williamson E, Linnane B, et al. Infection, inflammation, and lung function decline in infants with cystic fibrosis. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2011; 184:75.