The truth about green snot

Kinderling News & Features

Sarah Hunstead is the host of  Ain't That The Truth, a new podcast series tackling all things family health. 

Let's talk about the colour of snot.

Snot actually has a protective role in our body, because it protects our organs. Snot traps dirt and dust and other foreign bodies in our nose and keeps our airways clear and our breathing tubes nice and moist, and even protects our teeth from cavities.

It helps us fight off infections. So even though it's a bit gross, it's necessary.

Have you noticed that when your child has a cold their snot is basically a rainbow of colours? It starts off with that clear runny stuff. Then it might turn a little bit crusty when it moves along to yellow and sometimes even green.

Often people get concerned if there's green snot. Certainly my mum and my grandmother used to say, “Oh you've got green snot - it means you've got a bacterial infection. You have to get some antibiotics because it means you’re really sick."

But do you know what? That's an old wives' tale. 

Listen to Sarah Hunstead talking about  snot on Ain't That The Truth:

Why does our snot change colour?

Initially when your child gets a cold, that clear runny nose happens because their body is fighting off infection.

Then what happens is that lovely clean snot starts picking up the dead bodies of the viruses or bacteria that our bodies are fighting off and our white cells, that are our fighter cells, come along and kill all the virus and bacteria.

They've also got by-products that come off and get stuck in our snot too.

When it gets exposed to the air, that is what changes the colour of snot. Initially it might be white and then it gets onto yellow or green.

The yellow and green are just an indication that a body is doing what it's supposed to - fighting off infection.

"I'm sorry but you're going to have to take her home"

I remember when my youngest little girl went to preschool, we rocked up in the morning to drop her off and she had a big sneeze and a torrent of green snot flew out of her nose. It was disgusting.

The first thing the preschool teacher said to me was, “I'm sorry but you're going to have to take her home.”

The problem was I’d kept her at home four days before, and she’d had a terrible viral infection that whole time. She actually had a clear runny nose when she was at her worst. And she was actually completely better now, even though she still had that green snot.

I explained this to her preschool and said that she was better and will have the green runny nose because this is her body fighting off that infection. And then we looked at her and she was fine and she was off and running around. Everybody was happy.

So, we need to remember the colour of the snot does not indicate whether or not your child is infectious or if they need antibiotics. One of the gross things was when she did have that big sneeze, I noticed her little tongue came out of her mouth and try and lick it at the same time.

Now that is disgusting!

Sarah Hunstead is a paediatric emergency nurse, author and passionate advocate for child safety and children’s health. She's also the host of  Ain't That The Truth, a new podcast series tackling all things family health.