Mucus is a polymer. It is a slippery aqueous secretion produced by, and covering, mucous membranes. It is typically produced from cells found in mucous glands, although it may also originate from mixed glands, which contain both serous and mucous cells. It is a viscous colloid containing inorganic salts, antiseptic enzymes (such as lysozymes), immunoglobulins, and glycoproteins such as lactoferrin and mucins, which are produced by goblet cells in the mucous membranes and submucosal glands.
Mucus serves to protect epithelial cells in the respiratory, gastrointestinal, urogenital, visual, and auditory systems; the epidermis in amphibians; and the gills in fish, against infectious agents such as fungi, bacteria and viruses. Most of the mucus produced is in the gastrointestinal tract.Bony fish, hagfish, snails, slugs, and some other invertebrates also produce external mucus. In addition to serving a protective function against infectious agents, such mucus provides protection against toxins produced by predators, can facilitate movement and may play a role in communication.
Nasal mucus is produced by the nasal mucosa; and mucus lining the airways (trachea, bronchus, bronchioles) is produced by specialized airway epithelial cells (goblet cells) and submucosal glands. Small particles such as dust, particulate pollutants, and allergens, as well as infectious agents and bacteria are caught in the viscous nasal or airway mucus and prevented from entering the system. This process together with the continual movement of the cilia on the respiratory epithelium toward the oropharynx (mucociliary clearance), helps prevent foreign objects from entering the lungs during breathing.
This explains why coughing often occurs in those who smoke cigarettes. The body’s natural reaction is to increase mucus production. In addition, mucus aids in moisturizing the inhaled air and prevents tissues such as the nasal and airway epithelia from drying out. Nasal and airway mucus is produced continuously, with most of it swallowed subconsciously, even when it is dried.