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Runny Nose

Oh boy, the Runny Nose. It’s frustrating because it lingers, your nose gets sore, you feel gross and contagious around others – the list goes on. Luckily, it’s usually caused by a virus (common cold or influenza) or allergies and is not often more serious than that. And the virus can cause a whole slew of lovely combinations – sore throat, cough, runny nose. Sneezing and runny nose. Watery eyes and runny nose. You get the idea.

How to stop a runny nose?

  • Drink lots of water! Keep that mucus thin and draining!
  • Saline drops or rinses, which also help thin everything out. If you’re trying to help a runny-nosed little one, this is good prep for using a suction bulb to clear out that tiny nose. A few times a day is plenty for suctioning; we don’t want to cause extra irritation to the nasal passage. For yourself or older kiddos, simply blow your nose after using the saline drop or rinse.
  • Avoid caffeine. Disclaimer here: I just can’t follow that rule. Sick or not, Mama needs her coffee. Caffeine is dehydrating so I then balance it out by drinking MORE water. If we’re talking about your kids here? Then yes, no caffeine for them.
  • Put skin protective ointment (such as Aquaphor) around the nostrils to help with breakdown or chapping from frequent nose blowing. A very thin layer AROUND the nostrils, not IN – just to be clear.
  • Wash your hands every time you cough, sneeze, or blow your nose! You can wash those tiny hands around you, too!
  • Warn those around you that you’re not feeling well so they can be more diligent with their hand washing as well.
  • Moisten the air with a cool-mist humidifier.
  • Ibuprofen or Tylenol for discomfort. Cough and cold medicine are not fully proven in adults and not recommended in our kiddos, so avoid them as much as possible!

Now, there does come a time when it’s possible this runny nose is carrying on too long and something else might be going on. Have you heard of post nasal drip?

What is post nasal drip?

Excessive mucus builds up and accumulates in the nose, causing extra drainage in the throat. You may notice a sore throat from drainage as well as a ‘post nasal drip cough’ from your body trying to clear the mucus.

What causes post nasal drip?

  • Allergies
  • Age (happens more with older age, as most things do…)
  • Reflux or heartburn
  • Bacterial infections
  • Cold weather
  • Overly sensitive nose, called vasomotor rhinitis
  • Dry air
  • Certain foods

How to stop post nasal drip?

Post nasal drip can occur with a runny nose and is not always concerning. Avoid irritants, such as cigarette smoke and chemicals, and try an over-the-counter nasal spray that contains a steroid. Limit use to 3 days – if you feel like you need it longer, please discuss with your doctor. For post nasal drip treatment, follow the same tips above to stop a runny nose. If it doesn’t clear up as your cold goes away or in about 10 days, call the doc.

When else to call your doctor:

  • If your babe is under 3 months old, chat with the doctor sooner than later. Things progress quickly in our little guys, better safe than sorry!
  • If symptoms are lasting longer than 10 days.
  • Sinus pain along with symptoms. Our tiny babes won’t be able to tell us this, so you’ll have to use your Mommy Radar to determine if they’re having head/sinus pain that doesn’t seem normal to you.
  • Ear pain. Extra fluid means extra risk for ear infection.
  • Signs of dehydration (dry mouth, not as many wet diapers for littles).
  • Yellow or green “goop”/discharge from the eyes.
  • Sometimes our kids or ourselves can throw up because of mucus draining down the throat or excessive crying (moms and dads cry, too!). This can be normal. If it is ever blood-tinged or you feel like it’s from something else (feeding intolerance, GI bug, etc), call your doctor.
  • If you’re ever concerned it is not related to a cold or virus, ask your doctor. Maybe it’s allergy related or something else more serious. Follow your gut!
  • Anytime your babe (or yourself) is wheezing or has trouble breathing – go to the ER.
  • Fever, depending on age:
  • 0-3 months: >100.4℉
  • 3-24 months: >102℉
  • 2 yrs+: >104℉
  • There’s also a myth that green or yellow drainage means we’ve got a bacterial infection and need antibiotics. This CAN be true but not always. One trick: does it START green or yellow right outta the gate? This could be a sign of a bacterial infection. But if it starts clear and changes to thick and colorful, it’s likely a virus that your kiddo’s body is fighting off. High five, Body!

Overall, our goals here are to keep the germs to ourselves and hang in there. This too shall pass, my friend.

Blake Wageman

Blake Wageman, RN, BSN has over 14 years of nursing under her belt, primarily focused on NICU babies and, just as importantly, their worried parents.