Sick? Do the snot test. Mucus, cough and fever reveal how to treat a cold

It can be hard to decipher when you or your children have allergies or something more serious. When should you go to the doctor? When should you take medicine and what should you take?

Kathryn Herb, Family Nurse Practitioner at American Family Care with locations in Cary, Raleigh, Apex, Fuquay-Varina and Wendell, answered our questions, explaining the color of nasal mucus, how your cough sounds and other factors may provide clues.

1. The snot test

The color of your nasal mucus can indicate how sick you are. According to Herb, many patients see yellow or green mucus and automatically assume they need to see a doctor for an antibiotic, but that’s not always the case.

“Most people first think they’ve developed a sinus infection…but most of the time that discoloration may just be due to your body healing,” Herb said.

  • If you feel sick but your nasal mucus is clear, chances are you have allergies, which can make you very sick. Allergies can be treated with antihistamines like Zyrtec or Claritin and nasal sprays with a steroid.
  • If the mucus is light green or yellow, your body is fighting an infection. Over-the-counter medications such as decongestants can be used to treat symptoms, but that alone is not a sign that you need to go to the doctor.
  • If the mucus is dark green or dark yellow, the infection has probably gotten worse. You may need to see the doctor.

Keep in mind that while the snot test can be used as an indicator, it is not a self-diagnosis.

Herb recommends basing your test on the color of your mucus in the middle of the day rather than its color in the morning.

“It’s going to give a clear indication of whether or not it’s an allergy-related nasal congestion rather than a cold, virus, or bacterial sinusitis,” she said. .

2. When to go to the doctor

Very often, it’s normal to treat your symptoms with over-the-counter medications and wait for a cold. According to Herb, it’s time to make an appointment with your doctor if:

  • Your symptoms persist or worsen after 5 to 7 days.
  • You feel pain in your face or ears. This could indicate an infection that may require an antibiotic.
  • You have lower respiratory tract symptoms, such as wheezing, shortness of breath, or rattling in the chest.

“An upper respiratory tract infection caused by a virus will usually clear up between the fifth and seventh day,” Herb said. “So if it’s been over a week and you’re feeling worse and not better, then I encourage you to come in for a checkup.”

3. Listen to your cough

How is your cough? Coughing is part of clearing an upper respiratory infection, and expectorants like Mucinex or a combination pill, like DayQuil, can help clear mucus and phlegm from your chest.

A health care provider can diagnose lower respiratory tract infections like bronchitis or pneumonia. If your cough is accompanied by a rale, it could be bronchitis or possibly COVID-19. Do a self-test and call your doctor.

A cough with a sharp wheeze can indicate inflammation or narrowing of the airways and may also require a visit to your doctor.

4. Do you have a fever? Here’s when to treat it

Fever is your body’s way of fighting infection, and waiting until a mild fever has passed can help your body recover.

“The fever on its own is quite protective,” Herb said. “It’s our body’s defense mechanism that literally burns out any ongoing pathogen, whether it’s a virus, bacteria, or even a fungal process.”

Fevers of 102 degrees or higher will cause discomfort and may require medication, but Herb recommends treating the patient, not the number on the thermometer, both when dealing with children and your own symptoms.

“If your fever is 102 degrees but you’re feeling fine and eating and happy, I would say don’t treat that until you’re comfortable,” Herb said. “If you had a low fever and were feeling really uncomfortable, I would go ahead and recommend that you take Tylenol and/or ibuprofen to help you feel better.”

Allergies do not cause fever, but they can trigger sinus infections, which can lead to fever.

Medication Guide

There are so many over-the-counter medications available, but Herb likes to keep it simple.

Oral antihistamines (Claritin, Zyrtec): These are good for allergy-related symptoms like watery eyes, itchy throat, and sneezing. Herb recommends using a nasal spray with a steroid to treat uncomfortable symptoms in addition to a daily allergy pill.

Decongestants (Sudafed): These are used to treat sinus congestion and stuffy nose. Decongestants can elevate blood pressure, so people with a history of high blood pressure should consult their doctor first.

Expectorants (Mucinex): these are used to make the cough more productive, by removing mucus and phlegm from the chest.

Pain and fever reducers (Tylenol and Advil): used to treat fever and pain. Advil and Tylenol can be taken together or separately.

Combination pills (DayQuil and NyQuil) can simplify the medication process, Herb said, but be careful — read what’s in each oral medication you take so you don’t accidentally take too high a dose.

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