So you have a cough. So it's productive. More productive than usual, maybe. You wonder – should I go to the doc? Or should I wait it out? You weigh your options, and make your decision, but as you analyze things keep this in mind.

New evidence may show that “jumping” to antibiotics may prove ineffective, and withholding antibiotics may not even show negatively in outcomes. The key lies in the color – of the mucus, that is. So, before you ask for antibiotics, ask yourself … What color is your mucus? What do you know about that color – What does it mean? And if we may throw one more question out there, what do you know about the antibiotic you're prescribed?

So what exactly do those colors mean? They should indicate the following:

clear or white, normal amount (for you) of production – healthy
slightly yellow – immune system is fighting an upper respiratory infection (sinusitis)
dark yellow – indicates the immune system is effectively fighting a lower respiratory system infection.
green – bacterial infection in lower respiratory system
brown – usually associated with smoking. If color becomes a darker brown it is advisable to cut back on amount of smoking.
Blood – sometimes present in bronchitis. People sometimes get scared when they see blood, and if it is a large amount visiting your physician is advisable.
Once you are familiar with your “rainbow”, and somewhat familiar with what you may need, we can tackle the next item, which is …

Are you aware that excessive use of antibiotics, over time, has proven to create a species of “superbugs”? Antibiotic overuse has been shown to significantly increase the resistance those “buggers” have against medication designed to kill them. This, in turn, has shown an increase in overall medical costs AND the possibility, or risk, of drug related adverse events. Importance lies in the discriminate use of antibiotics in patients with COPD who are suffering from exacerbations. It is necessary to improve overall outcomes and protect future health.

So when should you use an antibiotic? Antibiotics are not used to treat viral infections, they are used to treat bacterial infections. Which antibiotic you get, if prescribed, will depend upon what type of bacteria your infection is made of. Different antibiotic target different types of bacteria.

So … to do or not to do antibiotics. Ultimately it is between you and your provider. Be a little hesitant and very cautious, but be diligent and attentive. Be aware of the color of your mucus as it changes, so you can help your physician help you. Because as we now know – color is everything.