The Cold and Flu Season is right around the corner. Both of these minor illnesses are generally accompanied by nasal congestion. Nasal congestion in the setting of a cold or flu, while sometimes uncomfortable, is the body’s way of protecting & healing itself. However, nasal congestion is also caused by other things such as allergies, both in the air and from food. Elimination of certain things in the environment and in your child’s diet is probably necessary far more often than medication. This page is designed to explore the myths & facts surrounding this troublesome problem in your kids.
Myths & Facts
Myth #1: I need a medicine if my child has nasal congestion.
False. Most kids with nasal congestion will either have a cold (virus) or allergies. A cold is a viral infection in the nose. The body quickly fights this infection off with its own defense system. The most important part of this defense is sending more blood to the nose which causes swelling and congestion in the nose. This process is helpful and essential. Interfering with this protective process will just make it more difficult for your child to get well.
Myth #2: If the nasal drainage is a certain color then I need antibiotics.
False. Many people incorrectly believe that green or yellow nasal discharge means that your child has a bacterial sinus infection and thus needs an antibiotic. This simply is not true. Studies have looked at this extensively. There is NO correlation between the color of discharge and the need for antibiotics.
Myth #3: Over the counter (OTC) medications are safe.
False. Most of these medications are not safe. In rare cases these medications have even been associated with stroke in children. Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) and other nasal congestants have even been removed as OTC medications because they so closely resemble methamphetamines that people can easily convert them to the these dangerous and addictive drugs in their kitchen. Further, the FDA recently removed the indication for children because not only are they dangerous, but there is no evidence that they are helpful. Never give these medication to your children.
Myth#4: Nasal congestion caused by allergies needs medication.
False. Your child does not need a medication, your child needs the allergens removed. Start by removing cigarette smoke and animals from your home and all environments where your child spends a significant amount of time (like your car, grandma’s house, etc.) If you routinely leave the windows open, you may need to close them and consider getting a HEPA filter for your air-conditioner. Avoid anti-histamines if at all possible. These will make your child sleepy and only treat the symptoms – not the cause.
Fact #1: A cool mist humidifier and saline sprays are helpful.
True. A cool mist humidifier especially in dry climates is very helpful. This has absolutely no adverse effects and it helps keep the nose moist. This allows the normal nasal drainage to do just that – drain. Saline nasal spray can also be helpful for the same reasons. The spray works with your body to eliminate the virus or allergens that may be causing the symptoms. Some people extend this concept to nasal irrigation, which involves using a tea kettle-like device to wash out the nose and sinuses. While this may be effective for adults, I do not know many children who will tolerate it.
Fact #2: Nasal suction is helpful.
True again. The congestion needs to come out. In older children this can be accomplished by simply having your child blow their nose. In smaller children it may require using a suction device. This will be particularly helpful before feeding and before sleeping. Take caution though not to “over” suction. If you are constantly suctioning out the nose, you might cause more harm than good. Although I suggest a regular bulb suction device, some parents find that they get better results from this battery powered home suction device.
Fact #3: Congestion in small babies is normal.
This is true. Most small babies will have some degree of nasal congestion. They cannot blow their nose and their nose is so small that a tiny little bit of snot goes a long way. Just because you hear or see a snotty nose does not mean you need to do something about it. Ask yourself one simple question… Does my child’s nasal congestion interfere with normal activities? In the case of small babies this means… Is it hard from them to eat or breath? If they are not having trouble eating and breathing, then I would ignore the congestion. Trying to get it out will probably just make things worse. Remember my favorite advice – sometimes the best thing you can do is to do nothing at all.
Fact #4: Nasal congestion is good.
This should be obvious by now. Nasal congestion is what the body does to protect itself and heal itself in the setting of a cold. Interfering with this process will not only prevent the body from doing what it does best, but may also be dangerous.