Dear Dr. Kadile, I know antibiotics do not work for the common cold, but what about when my mucus turns green?
-Carol, La Quinta
Carol, this subject regarding the color of one’s mucus or phlegm determining the need for antibiotics is another one of the must frustrating medical myths primary care physicians encounter in their practices. Since we are now into cold and flu season, I deal with this type of question quite frequently in my own practice.
When you have cold symptoms and blow your nose or cough up phlegm that is green, this does not mean you have a bacterial infection which would need antibiotics. The green color comes from enzymes released by your white blood cells used to fight off the infection. When your sinuses are clogged during a cold, the mucus in the sinuses will stagnate and appear green when you sneeze or blow your nose.
The bottom line is that green mucus or phlegm does not mean you need antibiotics.
Dear Dr. Kadile, a lot of my fellow co-workers have had symptoms of runny nose, congestion and cough. I can’t afford to get sick, shouldn’t I be proactive and take an antibiotic to prevent me from getting something?
–George, Palm Desert
George, it sounds like your co-workers have had colds. As I’ve said in the past, colds are caused by viruses, NOT bacteria. Viruses DO NOT respond to antibiotics. Taking an antibiotic to prevent you from getting a cold would be worthless. The best method of prevention would be to wash your hands frequently and avoid contact with the sick.
Dear Dr. Kadile, I’ve had a runny nose, dry cough and congestion for the last 5 days. When should I be concerned that that this is more than a cold and go to the doctor?
-Lisa, Palm Desert
Lisa, colds generally will last less than a week. If your symptoms persist longer than a week and you’re not starting to feel better, than you should go see your doctor for further evaluation. If your symptoms worsen or you start to develop fevers, shortness of breath, and productive cough, then you should also see your doctor.
Dear Dr. Kadile, how do I know if I have a cold or the flu?
-Richard, Cathedral City
Richard, a cold is a milder respiratory illness when compared to the flu. A cold typically starts out with a sore throat and then leads to sinus congestion, runny nose, sneezing and a cough. Fevers rarely occur in a cold. Of course you just don’t feel good with a cold, but a cold will generally resolve in less than a week. The flu may make you feel quite ill for a few days to weeks. Flu symptoms generally develop quite quickly and can manifest with severe sore throat, fevers, headaches/body aches, congestion, cough, nausea/vomiting and diarrhea.