Myth Busters

Green Nasal Mucus Means It’s Time for Antibiotics. Or Does It?

With springtime comes allergies, and for many, a nasty runny nose. But is that runny nose just allergies, or is there an underlying infection?

The color of our nasal mucus is not something we tend to dwell on… until of course it’s dripping like a leaky faucet. But does green or yellow nasal mucus, also known as purulent nasal discharge, mean you have a bacterial infection?

Although this is a common myth (even amongst health care professionals), purulent nasal discharge is not a sure sign of a bacterial infection. According to the Mayo Clinic, both viral and bacterial upper respiratory infections can cause similar changes to nasal mucus.

“When our mucus changes color, it could indicate that we have come down with anything from the common cold, allergies, a bacterial infection, like sinusitis, or another underlying illness altogether,” said White-Wilson Immediate Care physician, Dr. Chinh Vien Van.

While the common belief is that green or yellow mucus is a sign that you have a bacterial infection and need antibiotics, that is simply not the case. Dr. Van encourages patients to pay attention to the other symptoms present.

“It is possible to have clear mucus and a terrible sinus infection, as well as dark green mucus and the common cold,” said Dr. Van. “If you have a bacterial infection, you will likely have other symptoms such as a fever, headache, congestion or chronic discharge.”

If you have worsening symptoms and purulent nasal discharge for more than a four days, Dr. Van recommends seeing a health care provider.

The moral of the story? Don’t jump to any conclusions when you see green or yellow mucus.

This myth is BUSTED.

Dr. Chinh Vien Van is board-certified by the American Board of Family Medicine and practices at the White-Wilson Immediate Care Clinics in Destin, Fort Walton Beach, Navarre and Niceville. White-Wilson Immediate Care Clinics are open seven days a week in Fort Walton Beach. Click here to learn more about Dr. Van and his approach to patient care, and view his video bio.

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