Dr. Bill Sears offers helpful tips to learning symptoms of, and solutions for, your child’s runny nose

During those early years, as your toddlers breathing passages are adapting to a world of germs and allergens, you will find yourself frequently wiping little noses. Not only do runny noses worry parents, they also bother babies, who typically breathe through their noses much more than their mouths.

Since you will spend lots of time preventing and relieving nuisance nasal congestion, preparing yourself for symptoms and learning solutions is the smartest way to make this practice as fun and therapeutic as possible. Join me as we take a trip through the various stages of nasal discharge.

Discern the thickness and color of the mucus.

Clear, runny secretions from an otherwise happy baby usually mean either a slight viral cold or an allergy. As snot gets yellower and then greener, followed by your baby appearing to get sicker, you rightly start to worry. Your baby’s rapidly maturing immune system pours out mucus as a self-flushing mechanism to keep unhealthy particles from traveling farther down into the lungs and gut. The greener and gooier the mucus, the harder your baby’s germ-repelling system is having to work. In a nutshell, that’s why little noses run so much. Clear nasal discharge in a happy baby shouldn’t be cause for worry, but as the snot thickens, so to speak, your level of concern should rise.

Discharge gets snottier, and baby gets crankier.

Those are certainly worrisome signs. But if baby doesn’t have a fever and doesn’t act sick, perform the nose hose and steam clean regimen described in the next two stages and wait 24 hours.

Do the nose hose.

Buy a prepared saltwater solution in a squirt bottle at your local pharmacy or supermarket.
You can also make your own saltwater nose drops with 8 ounces of water and 1/4 teaspoon of salt by warming the water to what you can tolerate, combining the ingredients in a squirt bottle and shaking to mix before application. Neti pots can be tricky to use on tiny toddlers, but the squirt bottle is ideal for spritzing a few drops of the saltwater solution into your toddlers clogged nasal passages. Saltwater solutions thin the mucus and make it easier to expel.

Use a snot-snatcher.

While older children are able to blow their own noses, babies cant. They need someone to blow their nose for them. Once you’ve loosened the mucus with a nose hose, use a nasal aspirator (available at pharmacies and supermarkets) to gently suck out as many of the secretions as you can. To make snot-snatching more comfortable and effective, sit baby upright during the nose hose.

Steam clean your toddler’s nose.

While infants are too small for neti pots and facial steamers two must-have nose-flushing gadgets for children over 7 you can make your own nasal steam bath at home. Turn on a hot shower with the bathroom door closed and enjoy 15 minutes of holding, nursing and reading to your toddler. Keep in mind that these basic home remedies are aimed at keeping the mucus thin and moving, which enables baby’s natural nasal-flushing mechanisms to function better.

Approach a stuffy nose with a funny face.

You’ll also want to prepare baby for the oncoming nose hose. Reserve some novel facial antics to get your little patient ready for the unwanted nasal flush. See things through your childs eyes the top parent tip I give for many interactions. Imagine your toddler feeling, Here comes that nose thing again But I love mommy’s laugh, songs and funny faces, and I can breathe so much better afterward

Fever and an increasingly cranky baby could mean a call to the doctor.

This may be more than just a cold. Runny noses, like so many other medical clues, merit the age-old wisdom of when in doubt, check it out.

Snotty eyes are a true sign to worry.

While there are few hard and fast rules in nasal care, this is one I have learned over my 45 years of treating congested babies: When a snotty nose progresses to snotty eyes (yellow drainage from the nasal corners of the eyes), that’s a must-see-doctor sign. Oftentimes, yellow-green eye drainage is a clue that what may have begun as a simple cold has progressed into a sinus and/or ear infection.

Clear the air.

A persistently runny nose with clear mucus in an otherwise happy baby could be from environmental allergens. Replace feather pillows with non-allergenic ones and remove stuffed toys and other dust collectors from a toddlers bedroom. Run a HEPA filter to get rid of pollens, molds, dust mites and other irritants that commonly inhabit bedrooms. Keep the door to baby’s bedroom closed and keep pets out. Of course, smoking is a no-no around little noses. Even particles of cigarette smoke on clothing and hair can trigger allergies.

In recent years, newer insights have led to the FDA recommendation that most nasal decongestants not be used for children under 2. In fact, many pediatricians are starting to wonder if, with the exception of severe allergic rhinitis, it is actually counterproductive to dry up the mucus by using a nasal decongestant. That’s why the home remedies of the nose hose and steam clean are still the best medicines especially when accompanied by a touch of humor.

Bill Sears, M.D., is a father of eight and the author of 42 books on family health, including The Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood. A practicing pediatrician for over 40 years, he is an Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine. Dr. Sears is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and a fellow of the Royal College of Pediatricians (RCP).