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The Informed Parent

Myth Busting: Runny Nose

by John H. Samson, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Jan. 29, 1997
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"I felt it was time to bring Joey in because his 'runny nose' changed from clear to cloudy," proclaimed the mother. She was sure this would mandate the need for an antibiotic prescription. She was shocked when the physician discharged the toddler from his office without the sought-after medication.

This scenario repeats itself many times daily in most physician's offices. If the doctor does not take the time to explain why a medication was not prescribed, a feeling of frustration fills the mother's mind.

It must be remembered that a nasal infection can be caused by a virus or a bacteria. Only a bacterial infection necessitates the use of an antibiotic. A virus is unaffected by such therapy.

In reality, a change of nasal discharge from clear to cloudy does not always indicate an actual infection that demands an antibiotic. Nasal drainage can appear cloudy due to other causes than a bacterial infection. The use of antihistamines can cause thickening of the discharge giving it a cloudy appearance. Sleeping in a low humidity environment can cause the morning mucus at the nasal openings to appear cloudy and even yellowish. Severe hay fever reactions can provoke milky appearing mucus.

It is not unreasonable to seek a physician's help when nasal drainage turns from clear to cloudy. Just do not expect, or worse yet, demand an antibiotic. The sequelae of the overuse of this class of medication is well documented.




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