Part of the show Science Question and Answer - New Horizons Mission
Dee via email asked:
Can you please tell me how to stop my body making mucus? I've had dysfunctional Eustachian tubes for seven months, and although they're sometimes on the point of clearing, along comes more mucus and the whole thing starts again. I've been prescribed some nasal spray but it's really depressing not being able to hear people clearly. Why do we need mucus anyway?
Mucus is very important, especially in your lungs. We did an experiment with this on TV a while ago. Mucus catches all the dust and bits in the air. If you didn't have mucus, all the tiny bits in the air would be carried deep into your lungs, which can do all sorts of damage, especially if it's toxic. As the mucus is sticky, it catches all these bits and you can either bring it up as phlegm or it runs out of your nose, taking all the poisonous nasty stuff with it. The reason that Dee probably has this problem could be down to allergy or some other inflammatory process going on. But usually it's down to something that you're breathing in that's making your airways inflamed. The reaction to an inflammation is to make lots of mucus. How do you get rid of it? Well there's one way to knock it down, which is to take some steroids like you've done. That will help to stop the inflammation quite effectively. The other way is to take some antihistamines. These are good because they stop histamine, which is a class of cells produced by mast cells. Mast cells are coated with an antibody called IgE that recognises allergy-provoking substances. When the allergy-provoking substance binds onto the IgE on the mast cell, it tells the mast cell to pump out this histamine, which is an inflammatory substance that makes you have sticky eyes, itchy eyes and a blocked up nose. If you take antihistamines then you block the action of the histamine before it has a chance to get going.