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What is a Mucous Membrane?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A mucous membrane is a layer of epithelial tissue which lines an area of the body which comes into contact with air. Mucous membranes are moist because of the presence of glands which secrete a thick fluid known as mucus, and they are important for a number of bodily functions. Mucous membranes line the urogenital tract, digestive tract, and respiratory tract, with one of the more well known mucous membranes being the lining of the interior of the nose.

The moisture found in a mucous membrane acts to protect the body by creating a barrier and preventing the inside of the body from drying out. Mucus also traps pathogens, dirt, and particulate matter so that they can be sequestered and eliminated by the body. The nose is particularly famous for this, using mucus as a barrier between many harmful substances and the respiratory tract. Some sections of mucous membrane also have small hairs known as cilia which act as traps, and can move to push things across the surface of the membrane.

Mucus can act as a lubricant, and it also facilitates gas exchange and absorption. In the lungs, for example, a thin lining of mucus is critical to healthy lung function. The absorption qualities of mucous membranes are also important in the digestive tract, where the body pulls necessary nutrients out of food as it passes along the alimentary canal. The digestive tract also has very active cilia, like those found in the nose.

People have to be careful with their mucous membranes, because the mucosa can be very delicate. Although the mucus helps to protect the body, its capacity for absorption can also become a problem, because many toxins and other harmful substances can be quickly absorbed through the mucosa. As anyone who has cut peppers and then rubbed an eye knows, mucous membranes are very adept at absorbing various compounds, and they are also very vulnerable to pain.

The mucous membrane which lines the urogenital tract are designed to prevent infection and provide lubrication, but they can also make someone vulnerable to infections passed between sexual partners. If the mucosa rips or is cut, the opening can provide a way for various infectious agents to enter the body, and the mucus will be unable to halt the infection in its tracks. As women with vaginal infections have noted, changes in the balance of beneficial organisms around the mucous membranes can result in unpleasant discharges, itching, and other symptoms as the mucous membrane struggles to do its job.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon990380 — On Apr 19, 2015

@anon343707: Take vitamin c as well as a good quality multivitamin like garden of life's range.

The herb goldenseal may assist you as well. Hope you heal up quickly.

By anon343707 — On Aug 02, 2013

I hope you can help me. It turns out that the psychiatric medication I was on for years damaged my oral mucous membranes, to the extent that I was drooling for a whole year before I discovered the cause and stopped taking the medication. But my gums are still leaking four months later, and my mouth is alternately very dry, full of sticky saliva, completely uncomfortable and not healing as fast as I would like.

Do you have any advice? I am desperate and none of my doctors have had a clue what to do.

By OeKc05 — On Jan 21, 2013

If irritants get past the nasal mucous membrane, they go down toward the lungs and you get a horrible cough. This happened to me while I was cleaning out a really dusty shed without wearing a mask.

The dust was so thick, and I stirred so much of it up just by trying to wipe it off. It flew up into the air and I breathed it in the whole time.

I started coughing in a few minutes, and the cough steadily got worse. By that night, I was coughing up phlegm.

The mucus had trapped particles of dust, and I was coughing them all up. I must have coughed for three days before I started to get better!

By giddion — On Jan 21, 2013

@anon161321 – Yes, it does. The mucous membranes that line the vagina contain a certain amount of yeast, anyway, but when the yeast starts to grow too much, you have an infection.

You get a horrible discharge that is creamy white and lumpy. You itch so badly, and since the majority of the itch is inside of you, you can't scratch it.

I used to get yeast infections a lot. I had to go to the doctor every time, because the only medicine that worked was a pill that I could only get with a prescription.

By healthy4life — On Jan 20, 2013

The mucous membrane in the nose is the one I have the most trouble with. I have dealt with allergies all my life, and it seems I'm always either congested or having a runny nose.

I get so tired of blowing my nose so often to remove the mucus! I have to in order to breathe, though.

I take antihistamines daily, but they don't completely remove my symptoms. I just have to deal with the mucus, whether it is dried and clogging my nose or wet and flowing freely.

The worst is when I get sinus infections. It's impossible to breathe, and I have to get antibiotics in order to get better. I once kept a sinus infection for two months, because I was too stubborn to see a doctor, but eventually, the dried mucus clogging my nose and ears became too much for me to bear.

By shell4life — On Jan 19, 2013

My doctor told me that we have mucous membrane tissue in our digestive tract. I had been seeing mucus in my stools, and I was worried about this.

I was relieved to learn that a little bit of it is normal. She did tell me that if I saw a lot of mucus, I might have inflammation or an infection.

Since I'm not having a lot of it in my stool and I don't feel sick, I think I'm fine. I was just surprised the first time I saw it there.

By anon311079 — On Dec 29, 2012

What are the symptoms of atrophic gastritis? I have constant headache and every day it's on a different side, plus I can feel constant mucus coming down my throat. I have taken all kinds of antibiotics and pain killers, but have had no relief and it's been two months. I had a CT scan which says there's nothing wrong inside my head and had X-rays that show I have sinusitis. I keep having these sensations on the sides of my nose. What is this problem?

By anon161321 — On Mar 19, 2011

does the candida virus affect your mucous membranes?

By anon125245 — On Nov 08, 2010

if your fingernail gets pulled off, is the area left under it called mucus membrane?

By SnowyWinter — On Jul 26, 2010

@cmsmith10: There are many things that can lead to atrophic gastritis. There are certain things that people should avoid, as they tear down our mucous membrane (stomach lining).

Using painkillers on a regular basis can lead to chronic gastritis. Ibuprofen and aspirin can destroy the protective lining in our stomach if used frequently.

Excessive use of alcohol can erode the stomach lining which leaves your stomach with no mucous membrane for protection.

Certain bacterial infections, such as Helicobacter pylori commonly infect the stomach. It is known to be one of the main causes of chronic atrophic gastritis.

By cmsmith10 — On Jul 26, 2010

@snowywinter: Great information! I was just wondering if you know what causes chronic atrophic gastritis?

By SnowyWinter — On Jul 26, 2010

@dinoleash: Hi! Sorry to hear of your illness. My sister has atrophic gastritis so I did a lot of research on it.

The mucous membrane (the stomach lining) acts as a barrier to prevent the underlying tissues from getting damaged by the alkaline and acidic substances. When the mucous membrane is damaged or weakened, chronic atrophic gastritis develops.

Treatment is directed towards reducing inflammation of your stomach lining. There are medications that neutralize the effect of acids. Medications such as Zantac and Tagamet are great to help minimize the production of acids in your stomach.

Hope that helps.

By DinoLeash — On Jul 26, 2010

I was told by my doctor that I had chronic atrophic gastritis. He said it had something to do with the mucous membrane in my stomach. Does anyone know anything about the atrophic gastritis?

By randolfh — On Jan 08, 2010

thanks for the article. it helped me in my research. thanks again.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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