Dear Dr. Kadile, I feel sick with a runny nose, cough and congestion. My mucus is green, do I need antibiotics? – 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 most 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.
Hey Doc, I have had congestion, cough and runny nose for the past 3 days and now I’ve lost my voice. What should I do? – Sunshine, Cathedral City
Sunshine, you’ve lost your voice because the infection you have has now affected your vocal cords. With your constellation of symptoms, it sounds like you have the common cold and laryngitis which is a viral infection and does not require antibiotics. The treatment is rest, push fluids and take over the counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Salt water gargles and sleeping with a humidifier on can help the laryngitis. If your throat is painful and it hurts to swallow, you should see your doctor to be evaluated for strep throat which would require antibiotic treatment.
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.
Both conditions are caused by viruses and will not respond to antibiotic treatment. If the flu symptoms persist, you can become more susceptible to bacterial infections such as pneumonia which would require antibiotic treatment.