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The Secrets of Snot: What Does my Child’s Snot Color Mean?

Published on May 30, 2024

If you have ever had a sick child at home, then you may have encountered your fair share of mucus or snot, as we often like to call it. Having mucus is not necessarily a bad thing. The sticky substance plays an important role in preventing and protecting against invaders such as bacteria, viruses, dust and other germs that get in through our mouths or noses. Snot can come in nearly all shades of the rainbow and each color can tell you something different about what’s going on inside your child’s body. 

Clear: This is healthy. Clear snot is usually nothing to worry about. If your child has a lot of clear nasal discharge, then it could be due to allergies or an environmental trigger.   

White: There could be an infection. White snot is caused by mucus losing water, which can lead it to becoming cloudy and whitish in appearance. This can happen when your child has the common cold.  

Yellow/Green: This is a sign that your body is fighting an infection. Yellow snot contains white blood cells which help your body fight against infections. As white blood cells work harder to fight off germs, waste products build up and can turn your snot green. You will often see green snot in a sinus infection or lung infection. Usually, yellow/green snot is not something to be concerned about, but if your child is sick for more than 10 days and is having fevers, cough and difficulty breathing, then you should call your child’s pediatrician.  

Reddish/pink: Red or pink snot means blood. Seeing blood in your child’s snot can be scary for a parent, but this should not raise immediate alarm bells! Blood can be present in the nasal passage because of dryness and irritation due to cold weather or nasal trauma from over-blowing your nose. If your child has red snot with persistent nosebleeds or difficulty breathing over a couple of days, then there may be something else going on. Contact your child’s pediatrician for additional guidance. 

Brown/orange: This is a sign of old blood. When blood dries out it turns brown or orange in color. Another reason for brown/orange snot is if your child has inhaled a lot of pollution or dirt. This is usually not something to be worried about unless your child is having difficulty breathing.  

Black: This can be a sign of a fungal infection or inhalation of smoke/chemicals. Black snot is not very common, but if your child has difficulty breathing, dehydration, pain or other symptoms lasting more than 10 days, you should contact your pediatrician for further evaluation. 

Now that we have gone through the color wheel of snot, you may be wondering what you can do to manage it at home. Keeping your child hydrated during periods of illness is key as it will help thin the mucus and make it easier for them to blow their nose. For infants, bulb suctioning can be used to clear the snot from their noses, which will help them breathe better. Having your child hang out in a steamy bathroom or running a humidifier may also help soothe symptoms. Additionally, using a saline nasal spray can thin the mucus and draw it out if your child is really having trouble clearing snot. Use this helpful guide the next time you are questioning your child's snot color! 

Remember that having snot is not a bad thing! It means that your body is responding appropriately to the germs it's exposed to. Now that you have mastered the secrets of snot, you will know what to do the next time your child’s nose starts running.  

About the Authors

Hailey Nelson, MD, FAAP, IBCLC is a complex care pediatrician at Valley Children’s Charlie Mitchell Children’s Center. Dr. Nelson enjoys working with children of all ages and abilities and is especially passionate about providing the best possible care to medically fragile children and their families. As the ambassador for Safe Kids Central California, she is a vocal advocate for children’s wellness and regularly appears in news media discussing pediatric healthcare. She is also a licensed breastfeeding consultant, certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultants to support nursing mothers and their babies. Learn more about Dr. Nelson here. 


Dr. Enjuli Chhaniara comes to Valley Children's from A.T. Still University of Health Sciences School of Osteopathic Medicine, Arizona and is in her first year of Postgraduate Residency. Dr. Chhaniara believes good healthcare requires a holistic and collaborative approach - and that her patients have fun in the process of learning about their health! Learn more about Dr. Chhaniara and the care she provides to patients here.