700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

What Kind of Stuff Clears Up a Stuffy Nose?

Dec 21, 2015

Have you ever heard this? ‘Mobby, by doze id stubbed ub.’ A stuffed up nose can make these and other words sound incredibly cute, but the symptoms of nasal congestion aren’t much fun! This time of year, clogged noses are usually caused by upper respiratory viral infections. In most cases, that means there isn’t a whole lot you can do to speed up the healing process, but you do have some options when it comes to stuffy symptom relief. As an ear, nose and throat specialist, here are a few of my top recommendations.

Hydrate. Parents know to give their kids plenty of liquids when they are sick – but one of the best stuffy nose solutions is to keep nasal tissues moist, too. Saline spray or drops given every few hours can help clear up nasal passages, thin the mucus, and shrink swollen tissues – and unlike cold medications, it’s safe for babies and kids of all ages. Running a cool mist vaporizer at night in your child’s bedroom can also help as well.

Grab Some Tissues. After you’ve used saline sprays or a humidifier to soften dried mucus membranes and nasal passages, toddlers and older kids can usually be encouraged to blow their nose. Use a bulb suction on infants or small children who aren’t able to blow. Delicate skin around the nostrils chap easily, so use soft facial tissues and dab petroleum jelly around the nose and upper lip to protect them.

Avoid Cold Meds. Although you may be tempted to give your child over ­the ­counter (OTC) decongestants and antihistamines, there’s little or no evidence to support that they actually work. In fact, decongestants can cause irritability and irregular heartbeats, particularly in infants, and shouldn’t be used in kids younger than 4 years old. Many pediatricians believe that OTC decongestants probably don’t need to be used in children younger than 6, and still others say that the amount of medication found in children’s formulations isn’t even enough to be effective.

Snot Right. Typically, thickening white or clear mucus signals the beginning of an illness; while yellow and green means the body is having to fight harder against an infection (snot turns greener as it accumulates more dead white blood cells). But yellow or green mucus doesn’t necessarily mean that an antibiotic could help. If your child still has thick, green mucus after 10-14 days and is experiencing a fever or nausea –take him/her to the doctor to get checked out.

Avoid Smoking. If your child’s nose is stuffy, being exposed to smoke inside the house or inside the car can further worsen their nasal stuffiness/congestion from the effects of tobacco smoke. Tobacco smoke inflames the nasal lining and increases mucus production and nose stuffiness, especially when your child is sick. Ideally it is best for parents not to smoke at all around their children. Minimizing any exposure of your child to tobacco smoke is always best and will help your child’s nasal congestion improve faster and more fully.

Chicken Soup for the Nose. Studies show that chicken soup actually contains ingredients that help thin mucus and decrease the amount of nose-congesting white blood cells. And it tastes pretty good too.

If your child consistently has nasal congestion or is frequently breathing through their mouth even when they aren’t sick – something else might be going on. During winter when the furnace (and more dust) kicks in, indoor allergies can spike from dust, mold, or pet dander. Less common causes of nasal congestion are polyps (inflamed nasal tissue) or structures inside the nose that are blocking airflow. In these cases, your best bet may be to see an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist at Nationwide Children’s who can offer additional insight and options into treating nasal congestion.

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James Ruda
James Ruda, MD
Ear, Nose and Throat Services (Otolaryngology)

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.