What Does Discolored Nasal Mucus Mean?

February 02, 2024 | Patient Education

Mucus is an important part of the human body’s defense system. From keeping sinuses moist to trapping harmful particles, mucus plays a pivotal role in maintaining respiratory health. Many people become concerned when they blow their nose and see shades of yellow, green, or other unusual colors. While it is important to pay attention to what is going on with your respiratory system, discolored mucus is not always a cause for alarm. The presence of other symptoms such as sinus pain and nasal congestion along with discolored mucus are a much better indicator of a problem with your sinuses.

Dr. Shawn Allen is a Board-Certified Otolaryngologist (ENT) in Houston, Texas, and he is experienced in determining the cause of discolored mucus. Keep reading, and watch the video, to learn more about what different colors of “snot” mean and what you should do if you notice discolored mucus.

Does Yellow or Green Nasal Mucus Mean That I Have a Sinus Infection?

Despite popular myths about the meaning of yellow or green mucus, the color does not actually mean you have a sinus infection or other specific illness. Discolored mucus tells you one thing for sure: that mucus is not flowing smoothly or consistently through part of your nose. There is a blockage somewhere and that could be in your sinuses or in another part of the nasal airway, such as around the nasal turbinates. The flow of mucus is often stopped due to inflammation. When there is swelling that stops the normal flow, breathing through your nose dries up the mucus and causes it to thicken or even become solid. Once this happens, the thickened mucus collects germs and can become a breeding ground for bacteria. However, there are simple steps you can take to prevent an infection.

Should I See a Doctor for Discolored Mucus?

A visit to an experienced ENT or certified Rhinologist is an excellent way to determine the cause of discolored mucus. An ENT like Dr. Allen can perform an exam to figure out if there is a sinus infection or another common cause such as allergic rhinitis. Accurate information and diagnosis will help you choose a treatment option that is most likely to succeed.

Treatment Options for Discolored Mucus

  • Nasal Rinse: At-home nasal saline rinses are helpful to thin mucus and flush out semi solid or solid debris. They also remove dust, pollen and irritants. You can find nasal rinse bottles or neti pots at any pharmacy. You can rinse 1 to 2 times per day. Make sure to use clean distilled water and sinus rinse packets to achieve salt balance in the solution each time to ensure this is tolerated well.
  • Antibiotics: If you have fever and localized sinus pain such as in one or both cheek(s) or in the forehead, it may be a sign of a sinus infection. If the symptoms do not clear up on their own within one week, antibiotics may be needed.
  • Medicated Inhalers or Rinses: Over-the-counter or prescription inhalers that contain steroid medications like fluticasone, such as Flonase, can be helpful for a number of nasal symptoms. Dr. Allen also recommends medicated sinus rinses that can deliver antihistamines while moisturizing the nasal passages, which are available by prescription only.
  • Surgery: In persisting cases of discolored mucus with other associated symptoms such as pressure/pain and congestion, CT imaging is indicated. If significant sinus problems are noted and fail to improve with medications such as antibiotics, then sinus surgery is indicated for relief and to avoid potential complications of untreated bacterial sinusitis such as infection of the orbit and brain.

The Bottom Line on Discolored Mucus

Remember, green or yellow nasal discharge on occasion does not always equal a sinus infection and does not always require antibiotics. The best thing you can do is see an ENT so you can make an informed decision that helps you get effective relief. Contact us to schedule your appointment.

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