WebMD BlogsFrom Our Archives

Green Mucous — What It Is and What It’s SNOT

By Rod Moser, PA, PhDOctober 11, 2007
From the WebMD Archives

Editor’s Note: This post, originally published on 12/1/05, has been updated to reflect today’s withdrawal of all over-the-counter children’s cold medications by the manufacturers.

Snot. noun. Middle English from gesnot. 1. Vulgar term for nasal mucous; phlegm. 2. A person regarded as annoying, arrogant, or impertinent (not your medical provider). Booger. Dried snot.

Yes, it’s not easy to be green, especially if you are mucous in a kid. Why? Because a vast array of parents think that green mucous requires antibiotics. Green = Bad. Clear = Not bad yet.

Viral infections (colds) can cause a variety of mucous color changes in children…green, yellow, orange, brown, and of course, my favorite the multicolored. For the diligent mucous-watcher, these colors are very significant.

After sitting in a congested nasal passage all night, mucous becomes stagnant….just like a green pond. Bacteria love warm, dark, moist areas, so this is where they like to live. But, just because there is bacteria in the mucous, does not mean antibiotics are necessary. The purpose of mucous is to moisturize the air we breathe, and to trap those floating particles inhe air. It is suppose to drain…either out of our noses, or naturally, down the back of our throats.

“Green Nose in the Morning is No Cause for Warning”. However, if a child has consistently green mucous from BOTH sides of the nose for over ten days, then your medical provider may take it more seriously. (Note: Green, smelly mucous from only ONE side of the nose of a child is likely to be a retained foreign body…usually food. And, you thought they ate those peas!)

Simple colds last a week if you treat them, and about seven days if you leave them alone; however, the nasal drainage can persists for weeks in children. This time of year, children tend to get exposed to “back to back” viral infections that run together and appear as one, prolonged cold. Children have a lower level of hygiene than other creatures on this planet, and germs are the most common thing they share. Day-care kids are like Velcro when it comes to viral infections. Since children get 6-9 viral infections per year, mostly in the fall/winter months, and colds can “run together”…then don’t be surprised if your outgoing, day-care toddler has a runny nose from October to March.

Is there anything you can do about this? No. Well, actually yes.

1. Use saline nose sprays. They keep the mucous thin so it drains, and the nasal mucosa moist so it can do a better job in the dry, household air that we breathe. Cool mist humidifiers are also very helpful in the bedroom.

2. Encourage fluids. Hydrations helps to thin mucous.

3. Antibiotics do NOT work for viral infections. Ever. They don’t prevent kids from getting sicker. Let your medical provider decide (without the begging, pleading, and coercion that often occurs). Antibiotics only work for secondary bacterial infections, like middle ear infections, sinus infection, Strep, etc.)

4. Be patient. Colds are inevitable. Cold are even considered biologically beneficial. What??? Cold are beneficial? You bet. Simple viral colds help jump start our immune system to make us more resistant to worse infections.

Hang in there, folks…

WebMD Blog
© 2007 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.

Latest Blog Posts on WebMD

View all blog posts

Important: The opinions expressed in WebMD Blogs are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. Blogs are not reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance, objectivity, or any other reason except for compliance with our Terms and Conditions. Some of these opinions may contain information about treatments or uses of drug products that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment.

Do not consider WebMD Blogs as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on WebMD. You should always speak with your doctor before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your care plan or treatment. WebMD understands that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified health care provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.

Read More