Mucus Madness

Reviewed April 2020

Sticky, ooey-gooey mucus sometimes makes it hard to breathe.

Mucus – you might know it as snot! – is not only in our noses, but also helps protect our lungs! It’s sticky and slimy and if too much gets in your lungs, it might be a little challenging to breathe. People with asthma often have extra mucus in their lungs.

In this activity, you will make your own mucus!

Objectives:
-Describe how mucus affects the lungs
-Demonstrate how mucus works  
Key vocabulary: Mucus, lungs, respiratory system  

Background

  • The lungs are a part of the respiratory system, which helps bring oxygen from the air into the body.
  • Air flows in through the nose or mouth, down the windpipe (called the trachea) and into the bronchial tubes, root-like tubes/small tunnels that help the air flow through the lungs
  • Mucus is a gelatinous substance produced by cells in membranes between the nose and lungs to make sure the airways stay moist and function properly
  • We swallow most of the mucus we produce without even noticing, but what’s left is important in protecting our airways from the dirt, dust and debris we might breathe in
  • The characteristics of mucus can tell us different things – if it’s a weird color, it might be a sign of infection. Super thick, clogging mucus can be a sign of over-dryness.
  • If you’re worried about the make-up of your mucus, be sure to contact your doctor.

Asthma:

  • Asthma is characterized by episodes or attacks of inflammation and narrowing of small airways
  • It is not well understood as to how and why some children and adults develop asthma and others do not – possibly related to environment factors and individual genetic disposition (Guilbert & Krawiec, 2003)
  • Children with asthma can present with a variety of symptoms such as
    • shortness of breath
    • wheezing
    • coughing
    • chest tightness
    • pain
  • Asthma triggers can elevate the severity of asthma at an alarming rate. Common triggers include:
    • “exercise, viral respiratory infections, air pollution, irritants, weather, allergens, coughing, and emotions” (Lim et al., 2009).
  • People with asthma usually have two types of inhalers: a controller and a rescue
  • Controller inhaler is typically used in the morning or night and contains medication that helps prevent asthma-related symptoms
  • Rescue inhaler is used in response to a sudden onset of asthma symptoms (i.e. an asthma attack)

For more information about asthma for parents, children and educators, please see IMPACT DC.

Kid-Friendly Language:

  • Mucus (or snot) is the sticky stuff in the nose. It also lines the airways and the digestive tract.
  • Mucus helps protect the nose and lungs from the dirt, dust, germs and pollen in the air, all of which can cause irritation or even infection.
  • People with asthma have extra mucus in the lungs, so the airways get smaller and it gets really tough to breathe
  • You can’t “catch” asthma from your friends – it’s not contagious!

Key Questions

Materials:

  • 4 fl oz. Elmer’s White School Glue
  • ½ TBSP Baking Soda
  • 1 TBSP Contact Solution
  • Popsicle stick
  • Small sealable bags

Activity Plan

  1. Find a bowl, cup, or plate to mix your slime in
  2. Pour out the entire contents of a 4oz of Elmer’s school glue into the bowl.
  3. Add ½ TBSP of baking soda and mix with the stick.
  4. After mixing, add your choice of food coloring.
  5. Mix and/or add more food coloring until you get the color you want.
  6. Add 1 TBSP of contact lens solution.
  7. Mix until slime forms and it begins to get harder to mix.
  8. Take the slime out and begin kneading with both of your hands.
  9. If needed, add ¼ TBSP contact lens solution to make the slime less sticky.

Adult supervision is required; This project is not appropriate for children under the age of 3 years. Warning: If large quantities of contact solution are accidentally ingested (greater than a tablespoon), get medical attention immediately. This recipe and more from Michaels.com -Elmer’s Recipes.

Follow-Up Questions

  • How is this slime similar to mucus? How is it different?

Extension Activities

  • Using large straws, put some slime in one and leave one clear. Have one child use the slime straw and one child use the clear straw to have pinwheel races, blow boats across water, etc. to show that the blocked straw (or the asthmatic lung) is harder to get air through.
  • If you don’t want the kids blowing the straws, set up a demonstration where you can pour water through both of the straws. Not much water should come through the straw with the slime, but should flow smoothly through the clear straw.
  • Use glitter to represent dust and other molecules in the air. Discuss how we need mucus in our noses and throats to help make sure pollutants don’t enter our lungs by showing how the slime picks up all the glitter from the table.

Check it out!

Books:

You Wouldn’t Want to Live without Boogers!

Answers the question – do we really need mucus?

Lungs: Your Respiratory System by Seymour Simon (Grades 3-6)

To give your body the oxygen it needs, you breathe twenty times every minute. You breathe more than twenty thousand times each and every day. Acclaimed science writer Seymour Simon explores the important journey that air takes in and out of your lungs

Videos:

Say hello to Chloe and Nurb and let them take you on a tour of the human body. You’ll find out how the body’s organs work and learn about body systems like the digestive system and brain and nervous system. Enjoy your tour!

Reviewed April 2020 by Tiffani Sherrer, MPH, CHES, IMACT DC

NGSS Connections (Life Science)

Disciplinary Core IdeaConnect It!
LS1.A: Structure and Function All organisms have external parts. Different animals use their body parts in different ways to see, hear, grasp objects, protect themselves, move from place to place, and seek, find, and take in food, water and air. Plants also have different parts (roots, stems, leaves, flowers, fruits) that help them survive and grow. (1-LS1-1)Humans use lungs to take in air. How are our lungs similar or different to other organisms’ lungs? How do plants take in air?
LS1.A: Structure and Function Plants and animals have both internal and external structures that serve various functions in growth, survival, behavior, and reproduction. (4-LS1-1)
LS4.D: Biodiversity and Humans Populations live in a variety of habitats, and change in those habitats affects the organisms living there. (3-LS4-4)Look at asthma rates in different areas. Why do some communities/places have higher rates of asthma than other places? How is the environment affecting how people can breathe? More background on this topic.
LS2.B: Cycles of Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems Matter cycles between the air and soil and among plants, animals, and microbes as these organisms live and die. Organisms obtain gases, and water, from the environment, and release waste matter (gas, liquid, or solid) back into the environment. (5-LS2-1)Compare and contrast how plants and animals breathe.