Dear Dr. Kagen,
If a child has a runny nose, is the color of the discharge important?
For example if the color is green would this be more of an indicator of infection?
Thank you for asking about nasal mucus and the meaning of its color.
Nasal secretions are normal. Everyone secretes mucus daily to clean and protect the eyes, nose, sinuses, lungs and throat. Having too much mucus, however, leads to a “wet head.” If you have too much mucus, it can lead to viral and bacterial infections. In other words, “a wet head gets sick.”
The color of the discharge from the nose is seldom helpful in determining its cause. If the discharge is bloody, then there has been trauma, mucosal irritation, or an active viral or bacterial infection.
The color of the mucus coming out of the nose in someone who has allergies can be clear, yellow or green, and the color alone does not make the diagnosis of infection or allergy.
The bottom line is this: too much mucus of whatever color is not normal.
Ask your doctor to do a nasal smear and look for eosinophils, which would suggest an allergic reaction to indoor or outdoor airborne allergens.
I hope this info helps you and your family. Good luck.
Steve Kagen, M.D.