Boogers are gonna happen. We can’t tell you how to stop them, because that’d be detrimental: Boogers are ultimately good for you. They form as a result of excess (or more viscous) mucus, in response to any number of biological or environmental factors. It’s often an indication that the body is adjusting to change . They’re also a cluster of mucus and dirt, formed when the mucus-coated nose hairs trap said dirt particles from entering the lungs. So, yeah, don’t focus on how to prevent boogers. Focus instead on how to properly remove them. As in, to prevent bleeding, and any need to aggressively pick.
For that, here’s some booger 101, courtesy of Dr. Jason A. Moche, Director of Facial & Plastic Surgery Division at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. The curriculum is simple: Moche outlines how boogers form, as well as how to extract them safely (and how not to!).
Boogers Are Basically Built-in Air Purifiers
Our respiratory system is lined with mucus, says Moche, all the way from the nose to the lungs. “It serves to warm, humidify, and purify the air that we breathe.” Typically, mucus does its job unnoticed. But sometimes, it becomes too viscous or copious, and you get loogies or boogers aplenty.
Boogers, then, show up for a variety of reasons. One is a humidity shift in the environment, since the air you’re breathing in plays just as much a role in why boogers amass. Since mucus is produced in the nose (in addition to the rest of the respiratory system), it’s going to easily reflect whatever quality of air you’re inhaling. “Other times, seasonal allergies can increase the amount of mucus our upper airway and nose produce, and therefore overwhelms its ability to clear effectively,” says Moche. “Arid climates are worse for nasal crusting, as are excessively poor air quality and pollutants.” If any nasal discharge quality or quantity occurs and isn’t an obvious reaction to a changed environment, then Moche advises seeing your physician to see if it’s an infection or illness.
That term, “nasal crusting”, is how Moche and other doctors refer to the booger formation process. And nasal crusting isn’t always a bad thing. It is, after all, a defense mechanism for the body: The mucus and your nose hairs are working in tandem to trap dirt and other gross things from being inhaled into the body. That’s why you should trim your nose hairs conservatively. Never pluck them, Moche stresses. They’re doing a very important job.
Picking Is Bad
If boogers get really dry and crusted against the walls of your nasal canal, it’s a recipe for a bloody nose. “This can irritate the nasal lining or even cause an infection,” says Moche. “The nose has not been able to adequately moisten the passing air. Essentially it can behave like pulling off a scab from a healing wound and cause injury to the underlying mucosa. This can also create a cycle which can become hard to break.”
How to (Intelligently) Remove Those Boogers
If your boogers are clinging to your nose walls (our term, not his) and are easily extracted, then peace be with you. However, if they’re a little stingier, you may need to take extra measures. Moche says that once he sees no signs of a nasal or sinus infection, he prescribes a saline regimen for his super boogery patients. “This typically will consist of a saline spray or gel,” he says. “At times if there is an underlying infection of the surrounding skin for overly aggressive cleaning I may start a petroleum-based product or antibiotic ointment.” A warm washcloth, post-shower may also help, since the boogers might be slightly melted into ooey gooey snot.
Moche also suggests purchasing a new humidifier or purifier for the home. We like the Ayr Saline Nasal Gel and MistAirmega Air Purifier and the TaoTronics 4L Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifer.
Remember: Picking Is a Sisyphean Task
“The more you pick the nose, the more boogers will come. The nasal lining will become injured and crust or scab to protect itself.” His advice: Just moisten and irrigate. Patience is a virtue, especially in your nose.
Watch Now 10 Things G-Eazy Can’t Live Without
A friend made an offhand comment the other day that caught me off-guard:
“When I blow my nose, it’s green, so I’m calling my doctor for some antibiotics.”
I thought this myth had been debunked long ago. In fact, it has been well established that you cannot rely on the color or consistency of nasal discharge to distinguish viral from bacterial sinus infections, or even whether you’re dealing with an infection at all. Seasonal allergies are a good example. They can cause all sorts of nasal discharge — thick or thin, yellow, green, or clear — even though there’s no infection at all.
- Why mucus?
- Why so thick? Why so green?
- Why does my doctor give me antibiotics for green mucus?
- The bottom line
- Different Kinds Of Snot And What To Do About Them
- Mucus Does More Than You Think
- Far from being a gross waste product, mucus plays an important role in the immune system.
- Cystic Fibrosis and Nutrition
- Mayo Clinic Q and A: Nasal mucus color — what does it mean?
- Common Cold
Before getting into why my friend’s nasal discharge might be green, it’s worth thinking a bit about why we have mucus in the first place. And we do have a lot of mucus: the lining of the nose and sinuses makes a liter or more per day!
There are a number of reasons, including:
- Hydration. Think of mucus as the body’s own moisturizer. It’s found on the tissues within the body, such as the lining of the nose, sinuses, and mouth, that come into contact with elements from the outside world. These lining tissues, also called “mucosa,” have a tendency to dry out and crack if there is too little moisture so mucous serves an important role in keeping these tissues healthy.
- Protection. Mucus is thick and sticky, so it can trap dust, bacteria, or other unwanted passersby in our environment and prevent them from entering the body.
- Protection. Mucus also contains elements of the immune system (such as white blood cells and antibodies) that kill any bothersome trespassers it catches.
There may even be other functions of mucus that haven’t been discovered.
Under normal circumstances, we barely notice its existence. And when we do notice, we generally think of it as disgusting or annoying, even when there’s more of it or it’s changing color only because it’s doing its job (as with allergies or infections). It’s fair to say that given all it does for us, mucus doesn’t get the credit it deserves.
Why so thick? Why so green?
When the white blood cells in the mucosa encounter an irritant or infectious organism, they respond by producing enzymes to repel the invaders. These enzymes contain iron, and that’s what gives the nasal discharge the green color. And if the mucus sits around (as when you’re sleeping), it becomes more concentrated and so may appear darker yellow or green. This is the natural order of things, whether the offending agent is a virus (which is the most common cause of sinus infection) or a bacterium.
Why does my doctor give me antibiotics for green mucus?
Good question! If most sinus infections are viral, and viral infections will not improve with antibiotics, it makes little sense to treat every episode of thick, green mucus with antibiotics. Yet some patients request it and many doctors continue to prescribe them. It’s likely that the improvement that follows antibiotic treatment would have happened even without antibiotics; yet that sequence of events tends to perpetuate the idea that antibiotics are necessary.
There are times when antibiotics should be considered. For example, antibiotics might be worth considering when
- the infection drags on for more than 10 days, or if it gets worse after a week
- the discharge is thick and uniformly white (that is, it looks like pus)
- there is a high fever that isn’t improving
- there are severe symptoms that do not respond to the usual over-the-counter sinus and cold remedies.
Each case is different. So, talk to your doctor if your sinus symptoms have you thinking you may need antibiotics.
If you’re prone to sinus infections or bothersome sinus discharge, remember these two things:
- Mucus is underappreciated.
- Most sinus symptoms are due to viral infections or allergies, not bacterial infections.
My friend shouldn’t expect to get antibiotics just because his mucus is thick and green. And it’s likely that if he does take antibiotics and recovers, the latter had little to do with the former.
Different Kinds Of Snot And What To Do About Them
Different Kinds Of Snot And What To Do About Them
If you’re like most people, you probably don’t like blowing a bunch of stringy ‘snot’ into a tissue. Although it may be annoying that you feel like a mucus factory when you’re sick or suffering from allergies, it is an essential component in the human body. It can also tell you a lot about what is going on inside your body. The way your snot looks can indicate things such as allergies, a cold, the flu, a sinus infection, or sinusitis. So, it is important to open up that tissue and take a peek if you aren’t feeling great.
Mucus Serves Many Essential Functions In The Body
No, mucus isn’t there just to make you miserable when you have a cold. Did you know that your body actually produces around 1-1.5L of it each day even when you’re healthy? Most of this mucus gets swallowed and dissolves in your stomach, so you never see it. Behind the scenes though, mucus helps keep your body running. It lines the tissues of your mouth, nose, throat, sinuses, and digestive tract. This keeps them moist and acts as a protective layer. Mucus also traps unwanted visitors from entering your body like bacteria and dust. When it does catch these foreign invaders, mucus has antibodies that helps the body kill them. So, even though you blame your mucus for making you miserable when you have the flu or a sinus infection, it actually helps keep you healthy.
Snot Tells You A Lot
As we mentioned, snot can tell you a lot about what is going on in your body. It can be a sign of common illnesses like the cold and flu or more serious ones like a sinus
or fungal infection. There are six common colors that snot can take on, including: clear, white, green/yellow, red/pink, brown/orange, and black. Snot can change colors for a variety of reasons, but each color tells a story about what is going on in your body. Furthermore, the viscosity – or thickness – of your mucus can also tell you a lot.
What Do The Colors Of Snot Mean?
Here is a basic breakdown of what the different colors of mucus mean:
Clear: If your snot is clear, that’s a good thing. Clear snot is considered ‘normal’ or healthy. However, if you are experiencing a large amount of clear nasal discharge, it may be a sign of allergic rhinitis. This is the form of allergies that most people who suffer from them experience. You could be triggered by pollen, dust, animal fur, or other irritants.
White: White snot differs from clear snot when it looks cloudy and clumpier than normal. Oftentimes, this points to the common cold. White snot is caused by your snot losing its water content, making it thick and cloudy. You might also be experiencing a sore throat, congestion, coughing, or a low-grade fever.
Yellow/Green: Yellow snot is a good sign if you’ve been experiencing symptoms of an illness. It means that your immune system is fighting back. The yellow color is caused by white blood cells gathering to kill invaders. Once they are done, they are discarded in your snot and turn it a yellow/brown color. If your snot turns green, it means your immune system is working very hard to fight the infection. This is often accompanied by snot becoming very thick. It can be a sign of a sinus infection or more serious bacterial infection.
Pink/Red: Pink or red snot usually points to some sort of injury or nasal trauma. Snot can become stained red or pinkish from blood. This can happen because of a hit to the nose or because you have been excessively blowing it, causing it to dry out and bleed.
Brown/Orange: Brownish-orange snot can be caused by old blood leaving the body and often follows pink/red snot. It can also be caused by something you inhaled that discolors the mucus, such as dirt.
Black: Black snot almost always points to some sort of fungal infection. It is not common but should be considered serious and confirmed by a physician. Black snot can also appear in people who abuse illicit drugs or smoke heavily.
Velocity Urgent Care Is Here To Fix Your Snot Problem
If you are experiencing colored snot or other symptoms of the cold, flu, or a sinus infection, a visit to Velocity Urgent Care can help remedy your condition. Our team of board-certified, friendly physicians will take a detailed medical history and perform a physical exam to help determine the cause of your nasal discharge. They will carefully and thoroughly treat your snot problem and get you back to feeling 100%. Walk-in to any of our 11 locations and take advantage of the fast, quality care that Velocity Urgent Care has to offe
Mucus Does More Than You Think
Far from being a gross waste product, mucus plays an important role in the immune system.
Mar 17, 2017 · 4 min read
Mucus gets a bad rap. From fake snot toys and prank kits to Mucinex commercials that portray mucus as obnoxious, grimy green men, the general consensus seems to be that mucus is disgusting.
However, far from being a gross waste product, mucus plays an important role in the immune system. And the slimy green stuff that runs out of your nose when you’re sick is not the only mucus in your body. The average person generates more than a liter of mucus a day, including snot, saliva, cervical mucus, as well as protective coatings for the digestive system, urinary tract, lungs, nose, and eyes. Mucus covers 400 square meters of surface area in an adult body, roughly the same area as a basketball court.
Mucus is over 90 percent water, but it also contains fat, salts, proteins, various immune cells, and mucins. A mucin is a protein covered in chains of sugars that stick out from the mucin molecule like legs on a centipede. Mucins give mucus its slippery feel and are very effective at binding together to form gels, which enables mucus to create a strong barrier against microbes and irritants.
Mucus performs a number of important functions to keep the body safe from infection. New microbes constantly attempt to invade the human body, many of them disease-causing pathogens. When fragile parts of the epithelium — the outer layer of skin and the linings protecting organs — crack, microbes have an easy access point. To prevent this, mucus keeps the epithelium well-lubricated. Mucus also coats the existing entry points into the body, such as the nose, mouth and stomach, and catches pathogens that try to get in that way. The mucins form a powerful sticky mesh, like a glue trap that the invading microbes get stuck in, preventing them from moving any farther into the body. Then antibodies, immune cells, antimicrobial proteins, and bacteria-infecting viruses contained in mucus can kill the pathogens or isolate them to prevent them from building up.
Some pathogens manage to break through the body’s defenses and cause sickness. The body responds by ramping up mucus production, overproducing new mucus to trap the invaders, which is then expelled. So that nose dripping like a leaky faucet is a good thing: the constant flow of snot is like Drano working its way through a system of pipes, taking the contaminants junking up the system with it as it goes. (And why does snot turn green during a cold? That’s due to an enzyme released by the higher-than-usual concentration of white blood cells in mucus during infection.)
Even when people are healthy, the body constantly produces mucus. Try swallowing, and see how quickly the mouth refills with saliva. Mucus membranes — the surfaces of the body lined with mucus — tend to cycle through coats of mucus in hours or even minutes. The discarded mucus travels through the digestive system, where it helps to lubricate human waste and move it through the intestines.
Mucus does more than trap and flush out pathogens. It lubricates the eyes so they can blink and the throat so it can swallow. It lines the digestive system to prevent stomach acid — which is strong enough to dissolve metal — from eating the walls of the stomach. Cervical mucus operates as a lubricant to help sperm reach the egg during ovulation, and then changes consistency to become a barrier, protecting the fetus by preventing anything from getting into the uterus during pregnancy.
Even when it comes to microbes, mucus does more than it gets credit for. Most of the body’s microbiome, the “good” microbes that live inside the body and help it function, live in mucus. The microbes living in mucus produces vitamins that the body uses. They also help to prevent inflammation in the digestive tract. They take up space, so infectious microbes do not have any room to move in.
When potentially pathogenic bacteria do get into the body, mucus often does not kill them — it tames them. One theory for how mucus does this is that, like most living things, bacteria crave sugar, and mucins are covered in it. The bacteria feed on the mucins’ sugar chains, and, like a tantrum-prone child, as long as they get their candy they do not turn aggressive.
However, scientists are still learning how mucins operate. Mucins are too complex and degradable to image or analyze accurately. Researchers are still trying to figure out details of their structure, how they mesh, and why their properties change under certain conditions. A better understanding of mucus could lead to new diagnostic tools and treatments for medical problems like cystic fibrosis, which causes a thick build up of mucus in the lungs. For something so ubiquitous and critical to human health, mucus remains a tantalizing mystery.
Image credit: meganjo / Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)
Cystic Fibrosis and Nutrition
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About Cystic Fibrosis
Cystic fibrosis (CF) is an inherited disease that affects the respiratory and digestive systems. CF makes children sick by disrupting the normal function of epithelial cells — cells that make up the sweat glands in the skin and that also line passageways in the lungs, liver, pancreas, and digestive and reproductive systems.
A defect in these cells causes problems with the balance of salt and water in the body, leading it to produce thick mucus, which clogs the lungs, setting the stage for infections and other breathing problems. In kids with CF, this mucus also can prevent the normal absorption of key nutrients and fat in the intestines, leading to poor digestion, slow growth, difficulty gaining weight, greasy bowel movements, and a decreased ability to fight infection.
At the time of diagnosis, the majority of patients have a condition called pancreatic insufficiency. This means that enzymes created in the pancreas that digest fat, starch, and protein aren’t properly passed into the intestines. As a result, the body has problems absorbing the necessary amounts of several important nutrients.
By providing good overall nutrition along with extra fat and calories and prescribed enzymes, you can help your child with CF grow healthy and strong.
Your Child’s Nutritional Needs
In general, kids with CF need more calories than other kids in their age group. The amount of additional calories they need will vary according to each child’s lung function, activity level, and illness.
A child’s calorie needs might be even higher during an illness (even a low-grade infection can greatly increase the calories required). A CF dietitian can help you determine how many calories your child needs each day, and track growth and weight gain over time in order to provide a good nutrition plan.
Kids with CF also have some specific nutritional needs:
Calcium. Patients with pancreatic insufficiency have difficulty absorbing calcium and are especially at risk for developing osteoporosis (weak, brittle bones), as are all kids with CF. Dairy products are good sources of calcium (and the full-fat varieties also are good sources of fat and calories). Many juices also are fortified with calcium.
Essential fatty acids. Patients with cystic fibrosis have altered levels of plasma fatty acids. Found in plant oils, safflower oil, and soybean oils, they help in the building of cell membranes and may play a role in lung function. It is suggested that CF patients try to incorporate more omega 3 fatty acids into their diet, which can be done with either food sources or supplements. Salmon, flax seeds, and walnuts are excellent food sources of omega 3 fatty acids. Before giving your child any over-the-counter supplements, discuss this with your CF dietitian or doctor.
Fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K). Important for immune function, growth, and healing, these vitamins are absorbed along with fat. And because most kids with CF have trouble digesting fat, they often have low levels of fat-soluble vitamins and need to take specialized prescription supplements.
Iron. Many children with CF are at risk for developing iron-deficiency anemia, which can cause fatigue and poor resistance to infection. Fortified cereal, meats, dried fruits, and dark green vegetables are good sources of iron.
Salt. Kids with CF lose a lot of salt in their sweat, especially during hot weather and when they exercise. So a CF dietitian may suggest adding salt to an infant’s formula and giving an older child salty snacks. The dietitian may recommend sending sports drinks along when your child plays sports or has phys ed, and during hot weather.
Zinc. Important for growth, healing, and fighting infection, zinc is found in meats, liver, eggs, and seafood.
Meals at Home and Away
To meet your child’s nutrition needs, you’ll work with the CF dietitian to create meal plans that include plenty of snacks, especially for toddlers who eat smaller meals.
For a picky eater, pay attention to the foods your child especially likes and adapt the menu as these preferences change. Ask an older child with CF to try one new food a week. It’s also important to model good behavior for kids of all ages. Eat a well-balanced diet with a variety of foods and make sure you try new things yourself.
To make meals a pleasant experience:
- Try to keep meals to about 20–30 minutes for toddlers and young kids, who can’t sit still for extended periods.
- Eat in a comfortable environment with few distractions.
- Don’t give huge portions that might seem overwhelming.
- Offer praise for eating well, but don’t force plates of food to be finished; encourage kids to eat as much as they can comfortably.
- Keep food choices simple, especially for younger kids.
- Make foods as attractive and appealing as possible.
All childcare providers and teachers should know that your child has CF and be aware of his or her nutritional and caloric needs. Work with the staff to plan high-calorie meals and snacks or send food if the menu can’t accommodate your child’s needs. Young kids need help taking their enzymes and supplements, and the staff should understand that they need to be taken before all meals.
As kids with CF grow into teens, they’ll probably begin eating more meals away from home and may feel pressured to eat in certain ways. Work with your teen, emphasizing the positive and monitoring any weight changes that are of concern. If you’re packing lunch, include high-calorie options like ranch dressing and peanut butter crackers.
Increasing Caloric Intake
It can be tricky to make sure that kids with CF eat enough fat and calories, especially if they’re sensitive to what’s on the plates of siblings and peers. One way to increase calories without creating an entirely separate menu is to increase the calories and fat in one part of the meal.
Here are some simple ways to do so:
- Add extra butter or margarine to sandwiches, sauces, and potatoes.
- Use dressings on salads or vegetables; add extra oil to the dressing.
- Prepare entrees with gravies and creamy sauces.
- Add bacon to burgers and chicken.
- Add dried skim milk powder to sauces and beverages.
- Add extra cheese to scalloped potatoes or macaroni and cheese; order extra cheese on pizza.
- Top salads and sandwiches with avocados or guacamole.
- Add nuts to cookies, cakes, pancakes, and salads.
- Add extra cheese and deli meats to sandwiches.
- Grill sandwiches in butter or margarine.
- Use heavy whipping cream and whole milk when cooking.
- Make milkshakes.
- Add instant breakfast mixes to milk-based beverages.
- Make high-calorie smoothies.
- Prepare calorie-rich desserts such as pudding and cheesecake.
- Top hot chocolate, pudding, and other desserts with whipped cream.
- Provide high-calorie snacks like peanut butter crackers or trail mix.
- Prepare high-calorie versions of popular family recipes.
When you’re shopping, be sure to compare the labels on similar prepared foods and purchase those that have higher fat and calorie content. Avoid diet foods — anything that claims to be nonfat, low fat, reduced calorie, or light/lite.
Look for whole-fat versions of dairy products such as sour cream, cottage cheese, and yogurt (many natural food stores carry a good variety of these). Don’t forget to check baby food labels. You’d be surprised at how the caloric level varies between brands.
Beyond Food: Enzymes and Tube Feeding
A child with pancreatic insufficiency will need to take enzymes with meals and snacks to help digest food properly and to get the nutrition and fat needed to grow and gain weight.
Signs that your child may need enzymes or an enzyme dose adjustment include:
- failure to gain weight, in spite of a strong appetite
- frequent, large, greasy, or smelly bowel movements
- bloating or gas
The CF dietitian or doctor will prescribe enzymes based on weight, growth, and how much a child eats at a time. An increased enzyme dose doesn’t necessarily mean that a child is doing poorly. It may mean that he or she has gained weight and now requires more enzymes.
Enzymes need to be taken with every meal and most snacks. They come in capsules, full of tiny beads, that can be broken open for kids who are too young to swallow entire capsules. They should only be mixed with foods that are acidic, like applesauce. They should not be chewed or crushed. Never change the dose of enzymes without first consulting your child’s dietitian or doctor.
In some cases, enzymes and high-calorie meals may not be enough to help a child thrive, and feedings through a tube into the stomach may be needed. It’s not always physically possible for kids with CF to meet their increased energy needs by eating by mouth alone. Tube feedings, which can be done at night, are an excellent way to help kids who have trouble gaining weight, especially when they’re ill.
Many kids and their parents are resistant to having a tube put in. But tube feedings are only prescribed when dietary interventions, calorie-boosting strategies, and enzymes haven’t been enough. Tube feeding may sound scary at first, but tube insertion is usually an uncomplicated outpatient procedure. Results can include improved weight gain and decreased stress around eating.
Tube feedings do not mean that you’ve failed to feed your child well or that he or she isn’t a good eater — often they just mean that a child needs so many calories a day that it’s impossible to keep up without them. Your child’s doctor and dietitian will make recommendations about tube feedings.
It can be hard for kids with CF to eat enough in a day to meet their needs, especially when they aren’t feeling well. Although we all think we’d like to be able to eat a high-fat, high-calorie diet, many kids with CF, especially teens, find it difficult to do so in our diet-conscious culture.
Keeping your eye on the positive — your child’s growth and weight gain — will help your child with CF eat well, stay healthy, and thrive.
Reviewed by: Michelle Reed, RD, LDN Date reviewed: January 2014
The Many Colors of Mucus
“The healthiest type of mucus is watery and clear,” says Omid Mehdizadeh, MD, an ear, nose, and throat doctor at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA.
Others colors it can turn are:
White. Feel a cold coming on? The stuff in your nose may get thicker and look white. It can be a sign that your body is pumping out white blood cells to fight an infection.
Green or yellow. This shade is usually a sign that you have an infection of some kind, like a cold or the flu. “The green color comes from a protein released from your inflammatory cells,” Mehdizadeh says. “It’s a toxic substance that kills germs trying to get in.”
Red or pink. If you’re sick and coughing a lot, you may notice blood-tinged mucus. This can come from broken blood vessels in your nose or throat. In some cases, it can also be a sign of cancer. Your doctor can do tests to find out the cause.
Brown or black. Dark-colored mucus can signal an infection. It’s also common in heavy smokers or people who are around smoke or coal dust at their job. This type of mucus also shows up in people with chronic lung disease. The color comes from a mix of blood and inflammation in the lungs.
White, green, or yellow mucus can clear up on its own, but if you also have a sore throat, fever, or chills, let your doctor know. She should also know if your mucus turns any other shade or is very stringy.
Mayo Clinic Q and A: Nasal mucus color — what does it mean?
DEAR MAYO CLINIC: My grandson frequently has a runny nose, and the color of the nasal mucus is sometimes green to yellowish. I’ve heard that this is a sign of a bacterial infection and perhaps the need for antibiotics. Can you confirm?
ANSWER: Greenish-gray or yellowish nasal mucus — your health care provider might call it purulent nasal discharge — isn’t a sure sign of a bacterial infection, although that is a common myth — even in the medical world. Both viral and bacterial upper respiratory infections can cause similar changes to the type and coloration of nasal mucus.
During a common cold, nasal mucus may start out watery and clear, then become progressively thicker and more opaque, taking on a yellow or green tinge. This coloration is likely due to an increase in the number of certain immune system cells, or an increase in the enzymes these cells produce. Over the next few days, the discharge tends to clear up or dry up.
Viruses cause the vast majority of colds in both children and adults. Antibiotics do nothing against viruses — regardless of whether green mucus is produced. However, the timing of symptoms may offer a clue as to the type of germs present. Thick, colored nasal mucus more often occurs at the beginning of a bacterial illness, rather than several days into it, as occurs with a viral infection. In addition, symptoms due to a bacterial infection often last more than 10 days without improvement.
In a few cases, a bacterial infection may develop on top of a viral cold, in which case symptoms may get better and then worse again. Under these circumstances, an antibiotic may lessen the severity of symptoms and shorten the duration of the illness.
In the meantime, measures that might help include taking in plenty of fluids to stay hydrated, gently suctioning out the discharge, using saline nasal drops to rinse out or irrigate the nasal cavities, and perhaps using a cool-mist humidifier to moisten the air. (adapted from Mayo Clinic Health Letter) — Dr. James Steckelberg, Infectious Diseases, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota
When you have a cold, mucus fills your nose and could cause post-nasal drip, headache, and a sore throat.
When you have a cold, mucus fills your nose and could cause post-nasal drip, headache, and a sore throat.
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How Long Will Symptoms Last with a Typical Cold?
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Many factors can increase your risk for catching a cold, including:
- Close contact with someone who has a cold
- Season (colds are more common during the fall and winter, but it is possible to get a cold any time of the year)
- Age (infants and young children have more colds per year than adults)
Symptoms of a cold usually peak within 2 to 3 days and can include:
- Stuffy nose
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Mucus dripping down your throat (post-nasal drip)
- Watery eyes
- Fever (although most people with colds do not have fever)
When viruses that cause colds first infect the nose and air-filled pockets in the face (sinuses), the nose makes clear mucus. This helps wash the viruses from the nose and sinuses. After 2 or 3 days, mucus may change to a white, yellow, or green color. This is normal and does not mean you need an antibiotic.
Some symptoms, particularly runny nose, stuffy nose, and cough, can last for up to 10 to 14 days, but those symptoms should be improving during that time.
When to Seek Medical Care
baby icon See a doctor right away if your child is younger than 3 months old and has a fever of 100.4 °F (38 °C) or higher.
See a doctor if you have:
- Difficulty breathing or fast breathing
- Fever that lasts longer than 4 days
- Symptoms that last more than 10 days without improvement
- Symptoms, such as fever or cough, that improve but then return or worsen
- Worsening of chronic medical conditions
This list is not all-inclusive. Please see a doctor for any symptom that is severe or concerning.
Because colds can have similar symptoms to flu, it can be difficult to tell the difference between the two illnesses based on symptoms alone. Flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses.
Read more: Colds Versus Flu
In general, flu is worse than a cold, and symptoms are more intense. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalizations. Flu can have very serious associated complications.
Your doctor can determine if you have a cold by asking about symptoms and doing a physical examination.
There is no cure for a cold. It will get better on its own—without antibiotics. Antibiotics won’t help you get better if you have a cold.
When antibiotics aren’t needed, they won’t help you, and their side effects could still cause harm. Side effects can range from minor issues, like a rash, to very serious health problems, such as antibiotic-resistant infections and C. diff infection, which causes diarrhea that can lead to severe colon damage and death.
How to Feel Better
Below are some ways you can feel better while your body fights off a cold:
- Get plenty of rest.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Use a clean humidifier or cool mist vaporizer.
- Use saline nasal spray or drops.
- For young children, use a rubber suction bulb to clear mucus.
- Breathe in steam from a bowl of hot water or shower.
- Suck on lozenges. Do not give lozenges to children younger than 4 years of age.
- Use honey to relieve cough for adults and children at least 1 year of age or older.
Ask your doctor or pharmacist about over-the-counter medicines that can help you feel better. Always use over-the-counter medicines as directed. Remember, over-the-counter medicines may provide temporary relief of symptoms, but they will not cure your illness.