What is the reason for my child’s runny nose?

Children are likely to experience a runny nose every now and then. It is a common symptom of various childhood illnesses but many parents are often uncertain of the root cause. A runny nose might mean a variety of conditions such as common cold or allergies or even a sinus infection.

Common causes


Hay fever or allergic rhinitis is a common cause for runny nose among children. The allergy symptoms typically include runny nose with clear drainage, congestion or stuffed nose, itchy nose, sneezing or red eyes with itchiness and tearing.

As a reaction worsens or persist, children can also develop headaches, sore throat and coughing. These reactions can disrupt their sleeping pattern which leads to irritability during daytime.

Children who have uncomplicated allergies do not usually end up with fever or a runny nose that drains yellowish or greenish discharge.


Runny nose

Hay fever or allergic rhinitis is a common cause for runny nose among children.

Even though parents often consider allergies once a child has a runny nose, infections are also a likely cause particularly among younger children.

Most cases are due to a viral upper respiratory tract infection or the common cold with symptoms including runny nose that is initially clear and might turn to a dense yellowish or greenish drainage, cough, congestion, sore throat, fever and headache.

If the cold symptoms last more than 10 days or the symptoms are severe with fever over 102 degrees for 3-4 days, it might indicate a sinus infection that requires antibiotics.

Remember that a runny nose is also a symptom of the flu. Generally, the symptoms of the flu are more severe than common cold which also includes body aches, high fever and fatigue.

Other possible causes of a runny nose

Although many children with a runny nose have either an infection or allergy, there are other causes as well. A deviated septum in which the cartilage in amid the nostrils is not aligned properly and splits the nostrils in an uneven manner is also a cause.

The presence of nasal polyps which are growths due to inflamed mucus membranes in the sinuses and nasal passages can also trigger a runny nose.

Vasomotor rhinitis which is instigated by exposure to odors, smoke, foods or humidity and temperature changes is another possible cause.

How to manage a runny nose

When controlling a runny nose, select a treatment that focuses on the underlying cause.

  • Oral or topical decongestants work by unclogging a stuffed nose and relieving the congestion. These are not suitable for children below 12 years old and must only be used for a few days at a time among teenagers.
  • Antihistamine nasal sprays can minimize the runny nose, sneezing and congestion due to allergies.
  • Nasal washes can alleviate the congestion and can also prevent sinus infections.
  • Leukotriene antagonists work by reducing the runny nose, sneezing and congestion due to an allergic reaction.

When it comes to cold and cough syrups, they should not be given to children below 5 years old. A doctor should always be consulted first before providing a child any over-the-counter medication even if he/she has taken it before.


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