Dealing with your baby's nasal congestion

Nasal congestion can cause your little one a great deal of discomfort. Here'¬ôs how to treat it.

04 June 2014
by Dr Iqbal Karbanee

Babies and toddlers experience great difficulty when they have nasal congestion. The younger the child, the more difficult it is for them to clear their nasal passages properly. In infants, especially those under four months of age, breathing through the nose is preferred. When the nose is blocked they cannot sleep well, cannot feed normally, and generally get quite distressed.

Most infants spend lots of time lying down, especially on their backs. As nasal congestion develops and gets worse, the mucous drifts down the back of the nose into the throat, forming a post-nasal drip. From here they may develop a wet sounding cough, and may even vomit after coughing.

How to clear a blocked nose

In most cases, nasal congestion is caused by a virus such as the Rhinovirus (common cold), the more serious adenovirus, RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus), or the flu virus. If the infection is viral, antibiotics will not help. Saline drops or sprays for the nose are your best bet for helping to ease congestion and should be used often, especially before feeds and before your baby goes to sleep.

If your baby has large amounts of mucous that will not clear, you may need to use medication. Ask your Clicks pharmacist for an age-appropriate over-the-counter treatment to help dry up the mucous. If your baby is sleeping and feeding well, but just has a runny nose, it is preferable to allow the immune system to deal with this in its own time. Keep this up unless complications arise.

Complications arise when the virus spreads from the upper airways to the chest. This can lead to breathing problems ranging from mild wheezing to bronchiolitis and bronchopneumonia. Any child who develops difficulty breathing, wheezing or rapid breathing should be taken to a medical facility for treatment.

When should you use antibiotics?

The very big and hotly debated question is when to use antibiotics. There is no easy answer, but as a general guide it is advisable not to rush and treat a runny nose with antibiotics, rather allow at least three to five days for the nose to start clearing first. A runny nose that persists for longer than five days is not necessarily a cause for medical assistance, however you should consult with your pharmacist or paediatrician if your child’s symptoms are getting worse, or if they have breathing difficulties or a fever.

A chronic runny nose or congestion that persists for weeks may be part of an underlying problem such as allergic rhinitis. In such cases, allergy tests are advised to try and establish the exact cause.


The first prize is to prevent the spread of infections in the first place, and this can be done with frequent hand washing – which is especially useful to limit the spread of RSV – and ensuring children are cared for in environments that are not too crowded and are well ventilated.

How Clicks can help you

Chat to your Clicks Pharmacist for further advice regarding treatment and medication, for example, the use of Benylin's Wet Cough Mucous Relief

Supplements are an essential part of fighting off or recovering from flu or a cold. Speak to your Clicks pharmacist to find out which ones will be best for your child, and to purchase vitamins and supplements online, visit here

To purchase tried-and-trusted cold and flu remedies, visit here

Read More: Flu Super Section