Stuffy Nose In Children: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

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Stuffy nose in children is common, especially during the autumn and winter months. It usually occurs when they are suffering from the flu or rhinitis. A stuffy nose does not happen due to the excess mucus present in the nose but, instead, due to the inflammation of the nose’s blood vessels (1). The stuffy noses in children might cause breathing difficulties and make them fatigued and irritated all the time.

If left untreated, the congestion might also lead to infections in the respiratory tract or the ear canal. Read about the causes, treatment, and preventative measures for stuffy noses in children.

Causes Of Stuffy Nose In Children

A runny or stuffy nose in children could be due to various reasons. While some could have a benign cause, others may indicate underlying illnesses or conditions. These causes could include the following (2) (3).

  • Sinus infections
  • Common cold
  • Allergic rhinitis
  • Vasomotor rhinitis (due to dilation of blood vessels in the nose)
  • Small items stuck inside the nostril
  • Benign sac-like growth in the nose (nasal polyps)
  • Rebound nasal congestion (discharge due to continuous use of nasal sprays)

In rare cases, abnormality in the shape of the nasal septum could cause a blocked nose.

Symptoms Of Stuffy Nose In Children

A stuffy nose is in itself a symptom of flu or rhinitis. In addition, as the nasal passages are inflamed and blocked, other symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections may also occur. Symptoms related to an ear infection may also be observed. These other accompanying symptoms may include (2) (4) (5):

  • Post-nasal discharge (dripping of mucus to the back of the nose)
  • Runny nose with thick and discolored mucus
  • Loss of sense and taste
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain and discomfort around eyes, nose, forehead, and cheeks
  • Bad breath (halitosis)
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Ear pain

Treatment For Stuffy Nose In Children

There are many methods to treat stuffy noses in children, ranging from simple home remedies to medications. The following treatments could relieve your child from stuffy nose (6).

  1. Place their head in an elevated position for easy breathing.
  2. Use a cool-mist humidifier or vaporizer to loosen the mucus and clear the airways.
  3. Give bulb syringes a try if your child doesn’t know how to blow their nose. A nasal aspirator can also be used in combination with salt water or saline to clear the nose.
  4. Contact your pediatrician for the usage of medicated saline drops or nasal sprays. Do not use a nasal spray for more than three days as it could cause rebound nasal congestion.

Mild nasal congestion usually lasts for a few days. Home remedies are effective in relieving a child from any discomfort. However, if the congestion lasts for more than a week, then your healthcare provider may prescribe medications accordingly.

Medicine For Stuffy Nose In Children

Over-the-counter cold medicines may be effective on adults but not on children. Hence reach out to a pediatrician about the type of medication suitable for your child’s stuffy or runny nose. Furthermore, your healthcare provider would analyze the underlying cause of persistent congestion and prescribe medications accordingly. The most common medicines to treat stuffy nose in children are (2):

  • Antihistamines in case of allergic congestion
  • Anti-inflammatory nasal spray for children older than two years
  • Antiviral drugs or antibiotics in case of any infections

Ways To Prevent Stuffy Nose In Children

Children have developing immunity, and this makes them susceptible to common colds and allergies. You may consider the following interventions on the first signs of a stuffy nose to prevent it from worsening (2) (6).

  1. Give them plenty of fluids
  2. Try hot showers or regular steaming to relieve congestion
  3. Use nasal sprays on the advice of a doctor
  4. Prevent allergic congestions by giving them antihistamines prescribed by a doctor
  5. Offer your child hot beverages such as soups, milk, or chicken broth
  6. Prevent exposure to respiratory irritants such as tobacco smoke, kitchen smoke, automobile exhaust, dust, pet dander, and pollen
  7. Get regular childhood vaccinations

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why does my child’s nose get stuffy at night?

Nasal congestion may increase during the night because the mucus tends to pool in the sinuses (7) or nasal passages when lying down. So, try to make them sleep with their head slightly elevated on a pillow.

2. Can a kid suffocate from a stuffy nose?

Although a stuffy nose is common in children, it may cause suffocation or difficulty in breathing depending on the cause or when the symptoms heighten (8).

A stuffy nose in children is nothing to panic about as it goes away in a week. But if it is accompanied by a sore throat, fever, or any other symptom, it is advisable to consult your healthcare provider. In such cases, congestion would be treated by acting on the underlying cause with suitable medications.

Key Pointers

  • A stuffy nose is a sign of either flu or rhinitis.
  • The common symptoms of a stuffy nose are headache, fatigue, and post-nasal discharge.
  • Hot showers, giving fluids, and other preventive tips as you scroll through.


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Sindusha MS

Sindusha is a clinical nutritionist with over two years of experience in diverse fields of nutrition. She did her Masters in Food Science and Nutrition from Avinashilingam Institute for Home Science and Higher Education for Women and has qualified UGC-NET. She interned as a quality control analyst and as a dietitian during her graduation. She was a part of several... more

Dr. Neema Shrestha

Dr. Neema Shrestha is a pediatrician with a special interest in the field of neonatology. Currently working in Kathmandu, Nepal, she completed her MBBS from Kasturba Medical College, Manipal in 2008, Diploma in Child Health from D.Y. Patil University in 2011, MD from Nepal Medical College in 2015 and Fellowship in Neonatology from Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi in... more