Nasal Congestion in Young Children

About nasal congestion in small children

Babies and young children with colds and associated nasal congestion/secretions have a particularly hard time breathing as they are "obligate nose breathers." In other words, they don't really know how to breathe through their mouth if their nose is blocked. As they get older, they learn to mouth-breath, and therefore become less uncomfortable when their nose is congested.

Another important fact is that most younger children do not know how to blow their nose.

Treatment

As a general rule, cough and or decongestant syrups or preparations should not be readily given to children younger than two years of age because of their potential side effects. On the other hand, if a young child is uncomfortable, parents want to help. Most of the time some simple techniques can be helpful while still avoiding medications.Here are some practical tips on how to handle a young child's nasal congestion/secretions during a cold:

  • Make sure there is adequate humidity in the child's room(40-45%).
  • Ensure that the child is drinking enough. An ill child will probably drink less per feed than usual, but will drink more frequently.
  • Try to help clear the secretions in the nose. Salt water drops like Salinex are helpful but only if used properly. Just putting a few drops into the nose will not clear out the secretions. Put in the salt water drops, and a minute or two later use a nasal pump to help suck out and clear the secretions. In this way you can help the child "blow" or clean out his/her nose. This is an important point because the drops will not directly help clear the secretions. In fact, what they do is help loosen the dry secretions so that the nasal suction pump can help clear them. Trying to suck out dry secretions with the nasal pump is not very effective. If after these steps a child is still uncomfortable, parents should discuss the next step with their doctor.

As children get older, two things occur: The nasal passages get bigger and are less easily blocked and second, children eventually learn to blow their nose on their own. Encouraging them to learn to do this as early as possible is helpful. Often children learn to blow their nose by imitating theirs parents who blowing their own nose. Older children who understand the concept of blowing up a balloon or blowing into a straw can be instructed to blow in the same way through their nose. By practicing this they will eventually learn to blow their nose on their own.

NOTE: Another cause of a constantly blocked nose in children is enlarged adenoids.