What Does Green Snot Mean? 13 Cold and Flu FAQs

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What Does Green Snot Mean? 13 Cold and Flu FAQs

I’m gradually transferring popular posts from another site I publish, MyFamilyDoctorMag.com, to this one. They’re located in my new general-health section. Many were written by guest authors, and they’re all really good. Check them out. I think this one, though, meets The Survival Doctor criteria well enough to be a featured post.

Weird Stuff

Q. Doctor, my nose has been running for three days, and now it’s green! What does that mean?
A. Clear, watery nasal discharge [ahem, snot] can herald the start of a cold. As the body begins to combat the illness, white blood cells rush to defend the injured tissues. This immune response turns the clear secretions cloudy and colors them green and yellow. It’s the natural progression of the illness, and the colors indicate only that the body is mounting an immune response.
—Eva F. Briggs, M.D., board-certified family physician in Marcellus, N.Y.

Does Green Snot Mean Infection?

Q: Does green snot mean I have an infection?
A. Don’t worry if your snot turns green. That just means your body is fighting the cold with white blood cells (which contain green enzymes). It doesn’t mean you need antibiotics.

Q. Why do my muscles ache when I’m sick?
A. During an illness, your body releases certain natural chemicals to activate your immune system. These chemicals can stimulate pain-nerve endings in your muscles, causing aches.
—Emmanuel Rodriguez, M.D., M.P.H., infectious-disease specialist, NorthReach Internal Medicine Clinic, Marienette, Wis.; attending physician and hospital epidemiologist, Bay Area Medical Center; board certified in internal medicine

Q. Why do I have a funny taste when I’m sick?
A. The chemicals can also affect taste nerves. This is often your body’s response to the sickness; it doesn’t usually mean that something is wrong with your taste (or your muscles). Once you recover, the taste and muscle aches should go away.

Can a Virus Turn Into Bacteria?

Q. How can a viral infection (like a cold) turn into a bacterial infection (like sinusitis)?
A. A virus does not become a bacterium but may generate the right environment for bacteria to multiply, leading to secondary infections.

During a viral infection, mucus increases, membranes become swollen and mucus clearance decreases. This can lead to blockage. Secretions then get trapped and become excellent culture media for bacterial infections to ensue.


Q. Can you catch the same cold twice?
A. Within a few days after you get a cold, your immune system begins producing specific antibodies that prevent the virus from infecting more cells. Once you recover, you’ll be immune to that specific virus. However, many viruses can cause a common cold, and you could still get infected from a different strain.
—Shirley Tozzi, M.D., infectious-disease specialist, Caritas St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center, Boston, Mass.

Q. Why do some people have weaker immune systems than others?
A. Our immune systems are affected by a combination of genes and lifestyle. Factors such as diet, sleep, medications, exercise and, of course, certain diseases, can partly affect our ability to fight infections.

Q. Do doctors and nurses have stronger immune systems than other people? Is that why they don’t catch what their patients have?
A. That’s a myth. Hopefully, we just use frequent hand-washing and respiratory etiquette. During flu seasons, health-care workers are actually considered a relatively high-risk population because they’re exposed to people with the flu and can easily pass it on to other patients. They should get vaccinated yearly.

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Flu Vs. Stomach Flu

Q. What’s the difference between the flu and the stomach flu?
A. The flu refers to a respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. Symptoms include a relatively abrupt onset of high fever, chills, respiratory symptoms, muscle aches and fatigue.

The stomach flu is not a technical term, but it usually refers to illnesses of the digestive tract that cause symptoms such nausea, vomiting, abdominal discomfort and watery diarrhea, often along with low fever, fatigue and muscle aches.
—Kevin S. Liu, M.D., board-certified family doctor in Keller, Texas

Q. How do I know if I need to go to the doctor for my cold or if I’ll just get over it?
A. See a doctor if you have a fever or are short of breath, or your cold is not beginning to improve after one week. Expect a typical cold to last seven to 14 days.

Q. How do I know if I need antibiotics?
A. If you have an upper respiratory infection, it’s most likely a cold. Treat your symptoms with over-the counter-medication. But if you’re running a fever over 100.5 or you’ve been sick for seven to 10 days, see your health-care provider. He or she will evaluate whether you have a bacterial infection (such as sinusitis) and prescribe antibiotics, if appropriate.
—Marianne Beck, R.N., 25 years of experience as a nurse, including medical/surgical nursing, urgent care, ophthalmology and outpatient surgery

Q. How can I treat a cold at home?
A. Over-the-counter medications, including pain relievers, decongestants and simple throat lozenges, are your best bet. Also, get plenty of rest and fluids. Antibiotics don’t affect the viruses that cause colds.

Q. Why do doctors tell you to drink clear liquids when you’re sick? And what are clear liquids?
A. Clear liquids, such as water, soda, broth and even popsicles, have no solid particles and are at least somewhat see-through. Since eating solid food and drinking large amounts at a time can be hard when you’re sick, your doctor may tell you to take small but frequent sips of clear liquids to maintain your body’s fluid intake.

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  • Brandy

    This is the best website I’ve ever seen!! Thanks for all that you do. I’ve had a splenectomy as a baby due to spherocytosis. My fevers are 101- 99.8, copious amounts of green mucus, green eyes from a bacterial eye infection. I started out as a cold and got worse instead of better over the days. I hate taking abx unless it’s proven necessary. But, I’m also scared of sepsis, which I’ve had before. Is there some sort of happy medium??

    • Brandy

      Forgot to say was given drops and augmentin “just in case”

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  • Chanda

    I’ve had a running nose for bout a week or so and it runs during the day and stuffy at night . I constantly blow my nose and the mucus is green. How can I stop this ???

  • Abby

    I always have green mucus/snot in my nose but I have no other cold symptoms. It is like I have allergies but the snot it green. Should I be concerned?

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  • person

    Sick for days green snot, headache, threw up a few weeks ago, now I just got nose bleed..

  • Nicki

    My 4 year old was diagnosed with strep about 2 weeks ago and was put on antibiotics. He immediately felt better. I few days later he seemed to have caught a cold and now, still 10 days later, he keeps having a ton of yellow snot coming out of his nose. He has no other symptoms except for a sneeze once in while. I know its probably not sinusitis since he’s been on antibiotics for the strep. Could this cause the increase in “snot”??

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      If something’s not getting better after about 2 weeks or it’s getting worse before, or it’s causing other symptoms like headache and fever, it should be checked. Just because someone was on antibiotics for strep doesn’t mean a bacterial sinusitis couldn’t develop.

  • Chanda Jordan

    I woke up with sore throat the friday before last . monday I thought it was getting.better but I ended up throwing up all day. now I have sore throat and a bad cough. I went to the doctor two days after I woke up witb sore throat. she said it was a viral infection. ive never been sick this long. ive been taking.ibuprofen everyday to kill the pain.

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Chanda, if I calculate correctly, you’ve been sick about 10 days, it’s been about a week since you saw the doctor and you’re no better, perhaps worse? And the cough is a new symptom? If so, unless your doctor told you otherwise, it’s time to go back to see if this has turned into a bacterial infection. Or you could call and talk to someone at the doctor’s office. Keep in mind, viruses can last a good 7-14 days.

  • Chantel Wolf

    I had pneumonia my first week of Christmas break, could it have come back like two months later? I have really been hackin (spitting up) green mucus, does that mean a trip to the doc is needed???

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Pneumonia can definitely recur. Sounds like you need to get with your doctor.