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Baby Symptoms & Conditions

Runny Or Stuffy Nose In Babies

What’s causing your baby’s nasal congestion and how to deal.

What is a runny or stuffy nose for a baby?

Got goop? There’s not a kid around who won’t get through her early years without suffering at least a few dozen colds — and that means congestion, which usually can be identified by that lovely stuff streaming from her nostrils (or gunked around them).

What could be causing my baby’s runny or stuffy nose?

The clear favorite here is your typical, run-of-the-mill, ordinary cold virus. Babies get colds once a month on average, or about 10 to 12 times a year (more in the winter, less in the summer). One typically lasts a week to 10 days, and sometimes they’ll just run into each other — so it can seem like one cold is sticking around forever, when really it’s a few of them back-to-back. Allergies can also cause a runny nose, usually with clear mucus instead of the green or yellowish stuff that can come with a cold. A bacterial infection can also develop with a runny or stuffy nose.

When should I take my baby to the doctor with a runny or stuffy nose?

If she’s so miserable that she can’t eat or drink (and she’s showing signs of dehydration: doesn’t have a wet diaper for six or seven hours, becomes lethargic or isn’t producing any tears), or if her cold really doesn’t seem to be clearing up after a couple of weeks, it’s time to see your doctor.

What should I do to treat my baby’s runny or stuffy nose?

Unfortunately, cold medicines for babies and toddlers are a bad idea. The medicine won’t make the virus go away any faster, and it can actually do some harm. But there are some simple ways to make your tot feel better. Put a few saline drops in her nose to help loosen up some of the mucus. And suck out any excess snot with a bulb syringe (not pretty, but effective) to help clear out her passageways. Put a humidifier or cool-mist vaporizer in her bedroom; it’ll add moisture to the air and help her breathe more easily. Finally, try elevating her slightly when she sleeps, either by adding a crib wedge under her mattress or by holding her while she snoozes (remember, avoid pillows in the crib because of sudden infant death syndrome risks).

By Jennifer Shu, MD, pediatrician with Children’s Medical Group P.C. in Atlanta and author of Heading Home With Your Newborn (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2010)