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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  • 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.

  • Gracie

    I’ve been sick for 3 weeks and my mucus is green and black at times. My throat seems to be getting worse and I’ve tried everything, mucinex, NyQuil, tea. With honey, I don’t know want to go to the doctor for her to just tell me “common cold get rest and lots of fluids”

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

      In general, colds last a week or two. Sounds like it’s time to be checked to see if you need antibiotics.

  • Debs

    I’ve had green snot mucous (A LOT) for at least a week and a half, and now it’s less green but my nose is verry stuffy (just one side). And I’ve been coughing for more than a week. I took OTC meds for a few days but the symptoms aren’t going away.. I also had stye-like eye irritation twice, thinking I got it by rubbing my ears after blowing my nose.. I’ve never been sick with cold for this long. Should I go see a doctor? Thanks.

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

      After about a week of symptoms, if you’re not getting a lot better, it’s more likely you have a bacterial infection. So, sounds like it’s time to see a doctor.

  • James

    My child gets strep throat quite a bit even after her tonsils came out. At this point the mantra by her Dr. on the first visit is, its viral not bacterial, usually only on a return visit for the same illness that they do the strep test (quick test usually comes back neg) and the culture comes back positive for strep. They give her an ab and it clears up for awhile. I have recently been reading about this and see that 1/10 kids are carriers of strep type a and that many times they get a cold and the strep test comes back positive, but they do not actually have an acute strep infection. My concern is this…. I myself have a history of strep even after tonsils came out and have been hospitalized for severe cellulitis resulting from untreated strep. I do not want my child to take unnecessary antibiotics but at the same time I am worried that leaving strep untreated is going to result in a more serious infection. Typically my child does not have classic symptoms of strep like the exudate. Is there anyway for us at home to know if our child has strep or a common cold before we take her to the dr. Also is the occurrence rate of serious complications associated with untreated strep low enough to justify not having her take antibiotics every time there is suspected strep? Sorry for the long post and the many questions. Hopefully someone can shed some light. Thanks

    • http://www.thesurvivaldoctor.com James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

      James, possibly you could take her in when she has no symptoms and get her checked for strep to see if she’s a carrier. Certain antibiotics tend to clear up carrier infections better. But, I can’t tell you how to tell if it’s strep by the symptoms. I’ve been fooled too many times. You should talk it over with her doc about the treatment. For me, I think the complications outweigh the risk of too many antibiotics.

      • logical908

        Quit pretending to be a Dr… Notice Dr James Hubbard doesn’t have (.) between his MPH and he also has a display pic… troll

  • Travis

    I had surgery 1week ago on my testicles to remove 3 cysts. I now have a large bruise on the hand where the IV was and having bruising up my wrist and arm away from the IV spot. I have also devoleped flu like symptoms. Could this be something serious. Nobody in my household has been sick all winter.

    • http://www.thesurvivaldoctor.com James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

      Travis, it’s not unusual to have a big bruise around an previous IV spot. The IV traumatized the vein a bit and blood leaked out. But if the area is more than a little tender, it needs to be seen to rule out infection. Also, if you’re actually running fever, you should be checked out. In fact, if you’re just feeling a lot worse and don’t know why, you should be checked out to make sure you don’t have any infection related to the surgery.

      • Travis

        Thank you Dr Hubbard. I am sitting in my doctors office right now. Rthe pain in my hand is gettinf worse and it is gradually going up my arm and I now feel it in my elbow

        • http://www.thesurvivaldoctor.com James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

          Travis, if you get a chance, let me know what the doc says.

          • Travis

            The pain in my hand and wrist was not a focal point for the doctor. She was more concerned with the redness and swelling of my right testicle. She thinks I might have an infection from the Hydrocelectomy. She started me on cephlaxin and I have a follow up visit with the urologist on Monday. She also told me that if the swelling in my wrist does not get better or if the pain in my testicle gets worse to go to the ER at the hospital where I had my surgery done. I am not out of the woods yet she told me

          • http://www.thesurvivaldoctor.com James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

            Thanks, Travis. Sounds like it’s a good thing you went.