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Runny Nose in Infants

Runny Nose in Infants

Infants are not good at breathing through their mouths. So, when their tiny noses get clogged due to a cold or allergy, they have to struggle a lot to breathe properly, especially while sleeping and eating. This AptParenting article will give you information on what can cause runny nose in babies, along with some natural ways to deal with it.
Chandramita Bora
Last Updated: Apr 12, 2018
Comforting a baby when he or she is having a runny nose can be quite difficult at times. Nasal congestion or stuffiness can produce a lot of discomfort, especially while sleeping and eating, which can make your child cranky and irritated. Nasal congestion or a runny nose is usually associated with an allergy or the common cold, which can cause the buildup of excess fluid or mucus in the nasal cavity. The medical term for runny nose is rhinorrhea, which is actually derived from two Greek words, 'rhinos', which means 'of the nose' and 'rrhea', which means 'discharge or flow'.

Causes of Runny Nose in Babies

Common Cold

On an average, most babies get a cold once in a month, the frequency of which usually increases during the winter days, and then reduces to some extent in summer. Babies are more susceptible to colds, as their immune system are still developing. The common cold or an upper respiratory infection usually lasts for a week or so, and then subsides on its own. A viral infection like common cold does not respond to antibiotics. It runs its own course and then resolves gradually.


Next to the common cold, allergies are the second most common cause of nasal congestion in infants. An exposure to environmental allergens like dust and pollen, as well as food allergies can trigger an episode of sneezing and a runny nose. Hay fever, a seasonal rhinitis caused by an allergic reaction to pollen, can also cause a runny or stuffy nose in a baby.

Exposure to Secondhand Smoke

Babies who get exposed to secondhand smoke have been observed to suffer from frequent colds or upper respiratory infections. Moreover, their colds can last longer than those of other children. So, consider to quit smoking, and be sure to keep your child away from areas where he or she can get exposed to secondhand smoke, and other irritants or substances having a strong odor.


Like colds, influenza is also caused by viruses. But a cold is usually a milder infection of the respiratory tract, as compared to flu or influenza. The symptoms of both the conditions are more or less similar, but flu symptoms are usually severe than cold symptoms. Influenza is usually characterized by the excess secretion of mucus, a sore throat, headaches, muscle aches, and fever. The symptoms of influenza can last for a few days, and then improve gradually.

Accompanied Symptoms

A runny nose usually does not come alone. It is often accompanied by a few other symptoms like cough and sneezing. If your child's stuffy nose is associated with nothing but the common cold, you can observe the following symptoms:

A mild fever
Watery eyes
Green or yellow nasal discharge

If the condition is caused by allergies, your child may experience the following symptoms, along with a runny nose:

Watery discharge from the eyes
Redness of the eyes
Itchy eyes

On the other hand, influenza can produce the following signs and symptoms apart from causing a runny nose:

Fever with chills
A sore throat
Dry cough
Loss of appetite
Diarrhea and vomiting
Crankiness or fussiness

Runny Nose Treatment

For infants, over-the-counter cold and cough medications are usually not recommended, as these medications have not been found to be very effective in treating these conditions. In children younger than 2 years, some of these medications can also cause side effects. So, never give cold and cough medications to your child without consulting his or her pediatrician.

If nasal congestion is caused by allergies, then antihistamines may be prescribed by your pediatrician to reduce the nasal discharge and the inflammation. But be sure to not give any over-the-counter medications to your child without confirming with your pediatrician.

Home Remedies

You can employ a few safe home remedies to comfort your child by clearing up the congestion. Children cannot blow their noses till they become 4 years old. The following measures or home remedies can help clear up the congestion, and enable your child to breathe normally.

A saline nasal spray is one of the simplest, yet effective remedies for a stuffy nose. Saline water can be used to loosen up the mucus of the nasal cavity, and thereby facilitate its expulsion. Just pour or spray a few drops of saline water in your baby's nasal cavity, and then use a nasal aspirator or bulb syringe to suction out the mucus from the nose. Keep the baby in an upright position while doing so. You can get a saline nasal spray in any drug store, or you can make it on your own by adding a pinch of salt to about 30 ml boiled and cooled water.

Keep your child well-hydrated by increasing his or her fluid intake. Encourage the child to drink more breast milk or formula-milk. Breastfeeding is an effective way to keep your baby hydrated, and help him or her develop immunity against germs or infectious agents. If your child is older than 6 months, you can give him or her some warm water and fruit juices as well.

While sleeping, elevate the head of the bed by putting one or more towels under the mattress. Sleeping in a position with the head slightly elevated can ensure the proper drainage of mucus.

You can also use a cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier. Dry air can irritate your baby's nose, while humid air can help keep the mucous membrane moist. This can help your child to breathe easily, so that he or she can get enough sleep or rest. However, it is better to not put excess moisture in the room.

Another effective remedy for nasal congestion is steam. Just turn on the hot shower of your bathroom, and sit in the room with your child for a few minutes.

When to Call Your Pediatrician

Consider to call your pediatrician, if:

The cold persists for more than 10 days
The child fails to eat or drink properly due to congestion
The child is struggling to breathe
The child expels green, yellow, or brown mucus
The child is pulling his or her ears, and seems irritated
The child is lethargic and is not wetting the diaper for more than 6 to 7 hours

Nasal congestion and stuffiness can be treated easily with the simple home remedies mentioned in this article. However, if the symptoms look alarming, and they last several days, you should take the help of your pediatrician. Persistent and untreated colds can lead to bacterial infections like pneumonia and ear infections. It is best to consult a pediatrician, if your child's cold lasts more than 10 days, and if he or she is not able to breathe properly due to congestion.

Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.