A runny nose can make a toddler miserable and cranky, making fast treatment important. Treatment for a toddler’s runny nose is different from treatment for an adult, because some medications taken by adults can be dangerous for children.
Determining the cause of the runny nose is the first step in effectively treating it. Runny noses associated with a cold or flu are generally accompanied by considerable congestion and produce mucus that is thick and yellow or greenish in color. Toddlers with a cold or the flu will have additional symptoms such as fever, body aches or chills. If your toddler’s runny nose is due to allergies, the mucus is thinner and clear. Toddlers with allergies will also exhibit symptoms like itchy or watery eyes and sneezing but will not have fever or body aches.
Toddlers with a runny nose due to allergies can usually safely be treated using antihistamines. Make sure to purchase antihistamines specially formulated for children, and follow the directions. If you are in doubt regarding the dosage, call your child's pediatrician. Antihistamines can cause drowsiness but may also have the opposite effect: stimulation. If allergies persist, see a physician for possible allergy testing and immunotherapy. Toddlers with a runny nose due to a cold or flu may not benefit as much from an antihistamine because these drugs address allergic reactions rather than infection. Over-the-counter cold and flu medications are not recommended for toddlers under 2 years of age because of potentially harmful side effects (acetaminophen and ibuprofen are safe for other symptoms). If your toddler’s runny nose persists along with cold or flu symptoms, see the pediatrician for prescription medication (antibiotics). Typically when the cold or flu clears, the runny nose will disappear as well.
Not all toddlers can blow their nose well enough to alleviate their runny noses for long. If your toddler will tolerate your sticking a bulb syringe in his nose, you can gently suction excess mucus out that way. Saline spray inserted into the nose can help draw out mucus which, after it is blown or aspirated out, can temporarily relieve a runny nose. Dry air can irritate your toddler's sinuses, so placing a humidifier in his room may help alleviate his runny nose.