It’s Snot Easy Being Green

child sneeze_thumb[10]-1_1If you’re like most moms, you’re a wee bit obsessed with the color of your little munchkins’ bodily discharge.  And that includes nasal discharge, or SNOT.  We all get to inspect quite a lot of it in those first few years when it feels like they catch a cold every other week.  In fact, that’s not far off — the average toddler has 8 colds a year!

Tell me you wouldn’t do almost anything to nip that sucker in the bud, stop that nose from running, and plug up that dripping faucet of phlegm.  I know. And when it starts to look thick or green it’s tempting to go rushing to the pediatrician to ask for antibiotics, ’cause green means bacterial … right?

Well, no.  It’s the rare upper respiratory infection that’s caused by bacteria. The vast majority are caused by cold viruses like the rhinovirus or adenovirus.  All together, there are over 200 different viruses that may cause symptoms of the common cold, and none of them are treatable with antibiotics. Chicken soup? Lots of fluids? Rest and tincture of time? Yes, yes, and yes. But not antibiotics.

Some other remedies that may help include zinc (as long as you stay away from the nasal swab form that can cause loss of sense of smell), echinacea, and vitamin C. But not antibiotics.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when cold viruses infect the respiratory tract, the body makes clear mucus that helps wash away germs. After about three days, the body’s immune cells fight back, changing the discharge to a white or yellow color. “As the bacteria that live in the nose grow back, they may also be found in the mucus, which changes to a greenish color,” the agency says. This is normal.

Another important factor that influences the color is hydration. Kids who drink plenty of fluids have thinner, clearer mucous (and paler, clearer urine, too).  Drier, stickier mucous looks greener and yuckier.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The color of nasal discharge should not dictate the medicine.

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Ellen and Rachel are two old friends and “expert” mamas—one a pediatrician and one a family therapist—with fifty years of parenting experience between them.


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One response to “It’s Snot Easy Being Green”

  1. Paige

    Great information! Especially since Kennedy just got a runny nose yesterday!

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