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Is “Green Snot” Always a Sign of Infection?

Good old “green snot!” It’s every working parent’s nemesis. The color of snot does NOT indicate an infection or, more specifically, a bacterial infection that requires antibiotics for treatment. Green snot is simply old snot that has been hanging out in your child’s nasal cavities for a few days, mixing with skin cells, immune cells, and the like. It becomes thicker and darker the longer it has been around.

Often, by the time we see green snot, the child is feeling much better. Also, a child is almost always more contagious when he or she is running around with “clear” mucus and fever than when the mucus is dark and thick but they are without a fever. The key here is how your child is feeling. If they are energetic, without fever, and sleeping and eating well, then green snot is just the last of the virus. If they are miserable, feverish, uncomfortable, or not sleeping well, then green snot should be evaluated by a doctor. In this case, it can indicate an ear or sinus infection that may (or may not) require antibiotics. Seeing your doctor gets you that all-important doctors note to return to school … but a school cannot mandate that a child receive antibiotics if they are not medically necessary.

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