Kids Love Dr. Barton

Eww, It's Green!

by Dr. Douglas Barton, M.D., Pediatrician 10/20/2008

Now that cold season is here, I often hear the same concern.  “Doctor, the drainage is green.  I’ve always been told that means an infection.”  Grandparents have been telling us that one for years.  The other common grandparent advice is that if a child has a fever, he or she has an infection.

The funny thing is, in the broadest sense, both of those statements are true.  The problem is that many of us forget that viruses are infections!  The common cold is caused by a large number of viruses.  Each of these viruses has multiple strains.  Because of the wide variety of types and strains, none of us seem to ever get completely immune to the common cold.  Children have it the worst because their young immune systems have been exposed to far fewer of these various types of viruses than most adults.

Many viral upper respiratory infections (colds) start with a clear runny nose and cough and a feeling of the “blahs.”  Sometimes they have a fever associated with them, even up to 103 degrees.  Most of the time, the drainage from the nose turns green about day 3 or 4 and stays that way through about 7-10 days.  Around that time, the cough seems to turn deeper and “junkier.”  There’s more looseness to it.  That allows us to cough up the phlegm.  I am relieved when my cough finally turns very loose because that usually means I’m closing in on the last days.

Symptoms of a cold that last longer than 14 days or fevers for longer than 4 days are suggestive of a sinus infection, bronchitis or pneumonia.  This is especially true if you “feel” sick.  Children tend to never stop running and wrestling and causing trouble.  If they do, then they are more likely to have a bacteria that may respond to an antibiotic.  If that's the case, it's time to call your doctor.

In the case of a cold, increase fluid intake, increase rest, try honey for the cough in children who’ve had their first birthday, run a humidifier in the room and lift the head of the bed at night and you’ll find that, even though it’s green, this too shall pass.

Dr. Doug Barton serves patients from St. Charles County, Lincoln County and Warren County.


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