If you have an upper respiratory infection with green nasal mucous, does it mean you need an antibiotic? Find out why an antibiotic won’t always work.
It’s downright distasteful to blow dark, green mucous out of your nose, and some people take this as a sign that they need antibiotics – immediately. They quickly pick up the phone and make an appointment with their doctor in hopes of getting a seven day course of antibiotics to “nip it in the bud”. Fast thinking on their part, but is green nasal mucous really a sign that you need antibiotics?
The truth is most sinus and other upper respiratory infections are caused by viruses – not bacteria. Even a simple virus can cause nasal mucous to turn a variety of interesting colors – including shades of white, yellow, brown, orange, and green. Nasal mucous color isn’t a very reliable sign for determining whether an infection is viral or bacterial. Dark green nasal mucous can be seen with viral upper respiratory infections – particularly when a person first wakes up in the morning. This usually clears a little after blowing the nose a few times.
Unfortunately, antibiotics can only stamp out bacteria. They’re pretty defenseless in the face of a virus. Taking antibiotics “just in case” isn’t smart either. Even a short course of antibiotics kills the good gut bacteria that keep the intestines healthy and the immune system strong. Many people get diarrhea from taking antibiotics because they destroy the bacterial balance in their intestines.
Even more concerning is the fact that one study showed that antibiotics increase the risk of breast cancer in women. According to this study, the more antibiotics a woman takes over a lifetime, the higher her risk of getting breast cancer. Women who take antibiotics are also at risk of developing a vaginal yeast infection because they destroy the good bacteria in their vaginal tract. Antibiotics kill bacteria – both good and bad – and that’s not a good thing.
This doesn’t mean that dark green nasal mucous should be ignored. If a person is running a high fever, has severe headache or facial pain an antibiotic may be needed. An antibiotic may also be prescribed when green nasal mucous lasts longer than ten days. In other cases, antibiotics are unlikely to change the course of the illness – and may cause harm by throwing off the body’s delicate bacterial equilibrium.
The bottom line? Dark green mucous from the nose doesn’t always mean an antibiotic is needed, but it’s still a good idea to see a doctor if the green mucous doesn’t go away in a week or if it’s associated fever, face pain, or headache. Fortunately, there are other medications that can relieve the symptoms until the infection clears up.