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Stuffy or runny nose - children

Throat anatomy
Runny and stuffy nose


A stuffy or congested nose occurs when the tissues lining the nose become swollen. The swelling is due to inflamed blood vessels.

The problem may also include nasal discharge or "runny nose." If excess mucus runs down the back of your throat (postnasal drip), it may cause a cough or sore throat.

Alternative Names

Nose - congested; Congested nose; Runny nose; Postnasal drip; Rhinorrhea


Most of the time, nasal congestion in older children and adolescents is not serious by itself, but can cause other problems.

When nasal stuffiness is just on one side, the child may have inserted something into the nose.

Nasal congestion can interfere with the ears, hearing, and speech development. Congestion that is very bad may interfere with sleep.

The mucous drainage may plug up the eustachian tube between the nose and the ear, causing an ear infection and pain. The mucous drip may also plug the sinus passages, causing sinus infection and pain.


A stuffy or runny nose may be caused by:

The congestion typically goes away by itself within a week.

Congestion also can be caused by:

Home Care

Tips to help infants and younger children include:

A nasal wash can help remove mucus from your child's nose.

If your child has allergies:

Nasal sprays are not recommended for children under age 2. Don't use over-the-counter nasal sprays more often than 3 days on and 3 days off, unless told to by your provider.

You can buy cough and cold medicines without a prescription. They do not seem to be effective in children.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call the provider if your child has any of the following:

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your child's provider may perform a physical exam that focuses on the ears, nose, throat, and airways.

Tests that may be done include:


Long SS. Respiratory tract symptom complexes. In: Long SS, Pickering LK, Prober CG, eds. Principles and Practice of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 21.

Milgrom H, Sicherer SH. Allergic rhinitis. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St Geme JW III, Schor NF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 143.

Review Date: 8/14/2015
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.