What Parents Should Know About Congestion in Kids

Little Girl Playing Doctor with Her Stuffed Teddy Bear

Nobody’s happy with a stuffy nose, yet this is one of the most common symptoms of the common cold. Infants and toddlers regularly catch colds and suffer from congestion because their bodies are just starting to build up an immunity to viruses.

This article provides information about the causes of congestion, how long congestion typically lasts in children, and how to treat it safely and effectively.

Causes of Congestion in Kids

Both viral illnesses and allergies can cause nasal congestion in children. Congestion occurs when tissues and blood vessels in the nasal cavity collect an excess of fluid. This can make feeding hard for babies and even lead to sinus infections.

Environmental toxins and even changes in humidity levels can cause kids’ noses to become stuffed up. Physical nose malformations, such as a deviated septum, can make congestion and sinus infections more likely as well.

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How Long Does Congestion Last?

Although each child and each cold virus is unique, most physicians agree that nasal congestion that lasts for about a week is normal and a common symptom of colds and the flu. However, congestion that lasts for several weeks or longer may indicate a chronic condition. It is important to diagnose and treat chronic congestion before it turns into a bacterial illness that requires antibiotics, due to the risks and side effects of prolonged antibiotic use.

How to Treat Persistent Congestion in Children

There are a few different ways that have proven to be effective in reducing and alleviating childhood congestion. A rubber bulb syringe can be used in babies to suck mucus out of the nose, but toddlers should be taught to blow their noses to breathe easier.

Nasal washes and saline drops may help to relieve congestion in infants who are too young to safely take over-the-counter cold medications. Parents can purchase commercial saline drops or mix ¼ teaspoon of salt with ½ cup of warm water and a pinch of baking soda for a DIY home remedy. Two or three drops of the solution into the child’s nostrils a few times per day may help symptoms clear up.

Decongestants and antihistamines may be recommended for older children and teens to relieve symptoms of congestion. However, it should be noted that the most appropriate treatments for congestion vary by age. For example, certain OTC medications, like PediaCare’s Cough and Congestion is recommended for children between 4-11 years old. Always consult a pediatrician before giving a new congestion medication to a child for the first time. Other options for severe and chronic congestion are nasal steroids and antibiotics.

It may also be useful for parents to place a humidifier in the child’s room at bedtime to soothe nasal passages. Parents can also run hot water in the shower to steam up the bathroom and sit with the congested child for about 20 minutes to inhale the warm, moist air. Encouraging children to drink more water to stay hydrated and placing a pillow under the mattress to elevate the child’s head higher than the feet may also help to alleviate persistent congestion in kids. If the congestion is due to allergies instead of the common cold, physician-administered allergy tests can help identify allergens and eliminate them from a child’s home and diet.

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