Home > Kids > Children's General Health > Childhood Illnesses > Does Green Discharge Indicate Infection?
|

Expert Iconexpert advice MORE

Does Green Discharge Indicate Infection?

Pediatrics Expert Advice from Henry Bernstein, M.D.

Q: My son's congestion (from his runny nose) is green. Does he have an infection?

A: Although you cannot use the color of nasal discharge as a sole indicator of infection versus allergy, green mucus does point more toward infection. The only time clear nasal discharge with an allergic runny nose changes is when there is a superinfection. Remember, though, that "infection" doesn't necessarily mean your child needs an antibiotic. What is more important in trying to determine the cause and treatment of your child's runny nose is the clinical story and typical physical findings.

With a common cold, the nasal discharge can be different colors, causing some confusion. It initially starts out clear for a few days (looking just like an allergy), before turning whitish or green and then back to clear again as it resolves over a week or two. There may also be a little bit of fever, known contact exposures with others who have colds (very common for children in day care), and perhaps some swollen glands in the neck. A cold happens at any time, usually without a pattern. The inside of the nose looks red and inflamed. The symptoms of infection simply have to run their course. Cold medicines do not shorten this viral infection. Antibiotics are not routinely needed unless there is a complication of the cold like an ear or sinus infection.

With allergy, there's often a family history of some type of allergy and possibly some seasonal pattern ("This happens every spring."). The signs and symptoms include sneezing; itchiness about the eyes, nose, or roof of the mouth; a crease across the top of the nose from rubbing the nose repeatedly ("allergic salute"); mouth breathing; and dark circles beneath the lower eyelids. The inside of the nose looks pale rather than red, and these symptoms often last longer than the 10 to 14 days seen with a cold. Allergy medicine, like antihistamines, may offer some relief, but is not a cure.

Hank Bernstein
Children's Hospital

More on: Expert Advice

Henry Bernstein, M.D., is currently the associate chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital, Boston. He also has an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

stay connected

Sign up for our free email newsletters and receive the latest advice and information on all things parenting.

Enter your email address to sign up or manage your account.

Facebook icon Twitter icon Follow Us on Pinterest

editor’s picks

highlights

Healthy Smile Checklist for Kids
Have better dental check-ups with this free printable checklist that helps keep your child flossing, brushing, and smiling! Brought to you by Philips Sonicare.

Kindergarten Readiness App
It's kindergarten registration time! Use this interactive kindergarten readiness checklist, complete with fun games and activities, to practice the essential skills your child needs for this next big step. Download the Kindergarten Readiness app today!

Top 10 Earth Day Books for Children
Celebrate the environment by reading some of these great children's books about Earth Day, recycling, planting trees, and all things green!

Prom Dress Trends for 2014
Check out 2014 prom dress trends inspired by celebrities’ red carpet looks, but with a price tag under $100!