This post was almost entitled, “Does Green Snot Mean Infection?” – and then I realized you might have come here looking for a delicious recipe for tonight's dinner.
If you're still reading, I'll assume you don't mind the references to nasal discharge…
Today when I picked up my daughter from pre-school, I was informed by her lovely head-mistress that she had “lots of green snot.”
So gross. But is my child contagious?
It used to be common medical belief that green phlegm meant a bacterial infection (as opposed to a virus) – so antibiotics were routinely prescribed.
But numerous studies show that kids with green snotty noses that are given antibiotics respond THE SAME as those in placebo groups. Basically, green phlegm (or any color for that matter) is not a good indicator of treatment or the cause of illness. (source)
What we DO know, is that when the body is battling a pathogen (bacteria, virus or allergen) the immune system responds by creating clear nasal discharge to flush the invaders from the nose and sinuses.
If the infection progresses, the body's white blood cells get involved to fight the infection – producing thicker white or yellow phlegm. As the body begins to recover and the normal sinus bacteria begins to restore itself, the notorious green snot may appear.
Though potentially the grossest, the green snot is actually a sign of impending recovery.
So when IS my child contagious?
Think of it this way:
We are all walking around transferring germs every time we shake hands, touch our noses or eyes, sneeze, breathe, eat, or turn door handles. If your child is coughing, sneezing or snotty, he can certainly spread germs – even if he's been on an antibiotic (since they only work half the time, at best).
Ew. But before you go all germ-o-phobe and use anti-bacterial wipes on every surface you touch, consider that our bodies – and for that matter our entire planet – are covered with microbes.
When in balance, these little organisms actually support our health, and we are each equipped with an immune system that is designed to keep pathogens in check.
While there's no way to completely avoid transmission of germs, good hygiene can certainly help your immune system from becoming overwhelmed.
Unfortunately though, young kids are not well-trained at washing their hands, blowing their noses (no, that shirt sleeve is not a hanky!), covering their mouths, and keeping a healthy distance when they are feeling under the weather.
Instinctively, most folks are more likely to steer clear of a green snot-nosed kid, but in fact, the clear runny-nosed children are the most precarious, as they are likely to be out-and-about and otherwise seemingly un-sick. To make it worse, the freely runny noses and sneezing during early illness are quite effective in passing viruses and bacteria along.
While your child is contagious at any point of his cold, take extra care when he has a clear runny nose to allow him to rest and bulk up on immune boosting foods and common cold remedies that really work.
A clear runny nose can also be due to allergens or cold weather, but if your your little one has a runny nose with a fever, fatigue, or irritability, it's a good sign he is starting to fight an infection. If he has these symptoms or a persistent cough, it's a smart idea to keep them home from school, play groups, or any public gathering.
Keeping a energetic child at home once he's feeling better can be challenging on many levels.
Once the fever is gone and energy is back to normal, use your best judgement to determine whether it's wise to send your germy kid back into a sea of unsuspecting humans.
When do you send your child back to school or play after an illness?