young girl with stuffy nose

How to clear a stuffy nose

Because there are so many viruses that cause colds, it’s normal for a healthy child to get six to 10 colds a year, or so. The good news – with each new cold, your child’s body builds up an immunity to that virus.

Colds are passed around schools and homes like the old game of hot potato, and it’s usually easy to tell when your child has one. Most often, you don’t need to call or see your child’s doctor unless your child develops an earache or if the symptoms last too long.

The typical cold lasts about seven to 10 days. Unfortunately, there are no drugs to make it go away sooner.

But, there are good ways to help manage the symptoms. Dr. Keith Ramsey, pediatrician with OSF Medical Group, offers some advice.

“With most colds, the starting symptoms are a runny nose cough and not feeling well,” Dr. Ramsey said. “Colds start gradually and peak at about three days. By five to seven days, things get better and resolve by nine to 10 days.”

A stuffy nose with discharge

The nasal mucus is performing the important job of washing germs out of the nose and sinuses. This is the body’s way of fighting the infection.

“At this stage, blowing the nose is all that’s needed. For younger children, you can gently suction the nose with a suction bulb,” Dr. Ramsey said. “You can put petroleum jelly on the end of the bulb and nose to protect the nostrils from any redness.”

Nasal saline for a blocked nose

woman with stuffy noseUse saline (saltwater) nose spray or drops to loosen up the thick or dried mucus.

  • Step 1. Put several drops in each nostril.
  • Step 2. Blow (or suction) each nostril.
  • Step 3. Repeat nose drops and blowing (or suctioning) until the nose is open.

Saline nose drops or spray can be bought in any drugstore. No prescription is needed. Do not use homemade saline.

“Using saline frequently will keep the nose open without causing irritation,” Dr. Ramsey said. “Also, keep in mind, babies can’t nurse or drink from a bottle unless they can breathe through their nose.”

Another option is to use a warm shower to loosen the mucus. Let your child breathe in the moist air and then blow each nostril. For young children, Dr. Ramsey advises using a wet tissue to remove sticky mucus.

Stay hydrated

Try to get your child to drink lots of fluids to keep them well hydrated. It also will thin out the mucus discharge from the nose and loosens up any phlegm in the lungs, which makes it easier for them to cough it up.

If the air in your home is dry, use a cool-mist or warm-mist humidifier. Dry air makes nasal mucus thicker.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s a cool- or steam-mist humidifier,” Dr. Ramsey said. “Be sure to clean your humidifier after each use to prevent mold and other bacteria from being released into the air.”

Medicines for colds

Unless your child also has nasal allergies, allergy medicines are not recommended. While antibiotics are not helpful for colds, they might be necessary if your child gets an ear or sinus infection following the cold.

Last Updated: September 15, 2023

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About Author: David Pruitt

David Pruitt is a writer for the Marketing & Communications division of OSF HealthCare. He has a bachelor’s of journalism from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and worked as a reporter before joining OSF HealthCare in 2014.

An avid golfer and fisherman, David was born and raised Alton, Illinois, which is where he currently resides with his son, James.

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Categories: Kids & Family