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A Pharmacists Guide to Helping Nasal Congestion in Children By Sheena Mitchell, Pharmacist and mum of three school going children

Blocked and runny noses go hand in hand with seasonal weather changes, especially in winter. Of course, the viruses that are around at this time of year love the school and childcare environments, so it may seem like your child has a perpetually runny nose at this time of year.

A blocked nose can be particularly distressing for the youngest members of the family, especially when they are trying to sleep or feed, where they rely on their nostrils to breathe. Safe sleep guidelines recommend that a baby is always placed on their back to sleep.

As part of your child’s nasal congestion, a post-nasal drip often develops which usually drains down the back of the throat. However, at night mucus can get a little thicker because of the dry cool air, it can then become more difficult to drain because of your baby’s sleeping position. This can cause a cough and lead to even more disturbed sleep.


I recommend using a nasal saline spray to help clear a blocked nose in babies and children. Use first thing in the morning, ten minutes before every feed or meal, and before bed to make them more comfortable.

From my experience with my children and the feedback from my pharmacy customers, I can happily advise that the Calpol saline nasal spray, suitable for use from birth, is the gentlest nasal spray. This makes it ideal for use with children under three years of age and it can continue to be used for 12 weeks after opening for serial colds.

For slightly older children, I would recommend the Sterimar baby nasal spray as while it is a little stronger spray-wise, it is quite handy as the spray works at any angle. This means you can even use it while your child is lying down.

There are also saline nasal drops available from your local pharmacy, honestly, though, I always think they can be a little bit fiddly to use. Some medicated nasal sprays can be very effective for relieving the symptoms of blocked noses, in particular the Sudafed spray, however, these are only suitable for children over 6 years of age.

Nose Blowing

Most children start to learn how to blow their noses around the age of two years. For younger infants, a nasal aspirator is a very handy tool to suck stubborn mucus out of your child’s nostrils. I like the NUK nasal decongester as it is easy to clean afterwards.

There are a few clever ways to teach your child how to blow their nose, my favourite one is to make them laugh with their mouth closed. Another simple activity is the foggy mirror game. All you need is a mirror and a box of tissues to catch any snots that escape. Ask your child to pinch one nostril closed, then encourage them to blow air through the other nostril towards the mirror. See how much fog they can make each time as you encourage them to blow harder and with more force.

Night-Time Help

In my experience, you only get a couple of hours of clear nostrils with the use of a saline nasal spray, making it more suitable for the daytime. At night, when children and parents need their sleep to be at their best, I prefer to use a longer-acting solution.

If you can afford it, one investment you won’t regret buying is a humidifier. This can be left running in your child’s bedroom overnight to help keep their airways clear and moist. A humidifier helps to keep mucus thin and running, stopping it from accumulating in the chest. It can also help to reduce the risk of secondary infection and offers great symptom relief for coughs and colds.

I like the Medisana Humidifier as it contains an aroma compartment where you can put a few drops of Snuffle Babe vapour oil for babies or Olbas oil for infants over 3 months. The vapours released will help to keep their sinuses clear, reducing congestion and preventing a build-up of mucus in the chest.

Practical Tips

  • Tilt your child’s bed or mattress slightly at the head of their bed to help the mucus clear more easily. It will also help to stop the mucus from irritating their airways at night.
  • Use a nasal aspirator like the NUK one to shift persistent lumps of mucus.
  • Encourage your child to blow their nose regularly and practice good hand hygiene afterwards.
  • If your child is ever out of breath from congestion, you should contact your doctor.
  • Make sure your child is well hydrated by offering plenty of fluids, even if they don’t feel like drinking. This will help their cold to clear and keep their mucus thin.
  • If your child seems like they are persistently congested or their mucus is a colour other than clear such as yellow, green or red, bring them to the doctor. They may have another infection or allergy-causing these symptoms.

Another natural option that is great for both preventing and easing persistent congestion and coughs is salt therapy. I recommend the Salin Plus air purifier, a small fan machine perfect for bedrooms. It works by pushing air through a filter, so the micro-crystalline salts create a fine constant spray for the recommended 8 hours of use daily, night-time is best.

Salt therapy works through its mucolytic, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. It is also a negatively charged ion, so it stimulates the respiratory airways helping mucous to flow through the membranes. The salt sits on the membranes and draws the mucous out by osmosis. This allows for clearer airways, improved removal of mucus from the chest and easier breathing. In my experience, many respiratory conditions benefit hugely from this natural salt therapy when used consistently, including asthma, bronchitis, allergies, sinusitis, laryngitis and even snoring.

Think Pharmacist First

Your local pharmacist is a free accessible healthcare professional in your community, who can help to guide you through various at-home treatments and advise you when it is time to visit your GP.

You can find more information and tips on how to identify and treat common illnesses and conditions that affect the family on the pharmacy advice website. Or tune into the Wonderbaba podcast for more expert advice and insights into how other families are facing their healthcare challenges head on. Find a WonderBaba Podcast on iTunes, Spotify or wherever you stream your podcasts.

Sheena Mitchell is a mum of three children who provides expert pharmacist advice through her community pharmacy - totalhealth in Milltown in Dublin and online platform