Green Mucus in Nose and Throat – Bacterial or Viral Infection?

Green Mucus in Nose

Nasal mucus is very, very abundant stuff, even when there is no illness present. Most normal nasal mucus is clear in color, so this alarming shift in hue and very drastic change in mucus color can serve as an infection indicator. Dr. Oz explains that a whole liter each day is made by the mucus membranes of the sinuses (which include the throat) and, the majority of the time, this is swallowed, and therefore the sheer abundance of it cannot fully be appreciated. But, whether it’s very apparent or not, when green mucus in nose areas appears, it can scream bacterial infection.

But, if green mucus discharge signals infection, what kind? It’s common knowledge that different sorts of everyday ails stem from germs like viruses and bacteria. However, while they can produce similar symptoms, (of which green mucus in nose areas is certainly one) there isn’t necessarily any way to determine whether the green mucus discharge is the result of a virus or bacteria. But, interestingly enough, New York Times references studies that show that many doctors are more prone to start writing out prescriptions for antibiotics if green mucus discharge is present, even though there is no determining factor to show that bacteria is a cause.

Unfortunately, this rather alarming misconception can lead to a very large occurrence of antibiotics being used where there simply is no need. For instance, allergies (which of course have no bacterial or viral source) can contribute to the formation of green mucus in nose and sinus membranes, according to WebMD. And, in the case of an allergy, symptom management and antihistamines are often the only treatment (certainly an antibiotic would be largely ineffective).

But, there is one condition that can be linked to both allergies and illness, and of course green mucus in nose areas. That condition is sinusitis. Essentially, sinusitis simply refers to the swelling of sinus tissue, according to Web MD. The problem is that the resulting swelling can create an infection, because it produces an environment where blockages can contribute to the buildup of bacteria, viruses and fungus in the nasal area. Interestingly enough, while antibiotics are sometimes used in the treatment of acute sinusitis, the cause cannot be inferred by symptoms alone and they are not always necessary. The treatment of chronic sinusitis additionally is treated similarly, with antibiotics being used only sometimes.

New York Times explains that thick green mucus is in fact no more or less common in conditions caused by bacteria as they are in viruses, even though the perception is incredibly common. The truth is that without further testing or symptom analysis (and, even then it’s not an exact science) the color of mucus alone cannot determine what type of pathogen is causing the illness. The thick green mucus can result from a very wide variety of causes, and some of them aren’t even caused by germs.

Ultimately, one of the most common causes of green mucus in nose areas is the common cold (resulting from a virus, NOT bacteria). And, interestingly enough, the mucus produced from a cold starts out clear. It’s only when the white blood cells of the body start to fight back against the foreign invader that the color of the mucus can change to a greenish hue. Of course, colds can produce a wide variety of mucus related symptoms and everything from coughing up green mucus to sore throats can occur. The symptoms can be different in everyone. And, the mucus color doesn’t necessarily help to rule out or diagnose a cold either. Yellow mucus from nose areas is not uncommon and sometimes, the color doesn’t change much as all and it remains clear to white until the mild bout passes.

Please also watch this education YouTube video put together by TheDoctors show explaining different types of nasal mucus:


But, one thing is certain and that’s that the color of mucus cannot help determine whether or not illness is being caused from a bacteria or a virus. But, that doesn’t mean that it’s not a very widely believed misconception. So much so, that many doctors today are still doling out antibiotic prescriptions when green mucus is near. But, unless symptoms are very severe, accompanied by worry some effects, or relentless, medicine may not be required. The body is very well prepared to heal itself naturally with its own immune system, and when viral culprits are the cause of green mucus in nose areas, that’s about the only treatment available aside from symptom management.

Related Articles: