The Snotty or Runny Nose In Infants and Kids
by Dr. Christopher Chang, last modified on
There are a number of reasons why a child or infant has what people call a "snotty" nose. Related to this condition are symptoms of nasal congestion, nasal sounding speech, and even obstruction along with drainage out from the nose. Exacerbating this situation is the inability of the child to know how to blow the nose to clear such secretions. In severe cases, persistent mouth-breathing may occur. Among the most common causes of the snotty nose, nasal obstruction, and nasal congestion in infants and kids are:
- Adenoid Hypertrophy (Very Common)
- Turbinate Hypertrophy (Common)
- Significant Deviated Septum (Uncommon)
- Allergies (Common)
- Infection (upper respiratory illness and/or bacterial infections) (Common)
- Rarely, genetic conditions like cystic fibrosis and immotile ciliary syndrome
- Rarely, anatomic conditions such as choanal atresia
Treatment truly depends on the actual cause as often, the symptoms of the snotty nose are indistinguishable among the possibilities listed above. Note that sinus infection is not mentioned above. That's because sinus cavities are not fully developed until adolescence. As such, kids less than 7 years do not generally suffer from significant sinusitis. Click here for more information.
Regardless of the cause, saline spray or saline bullets to the nose followed by nasal bulb suctioning is highly recommended as often as 4 times or more a day to help alleviate these symptoms. In essence, YOU are blowing the nose for the child. In an adult with nasal congestion, nose-blowing may occur 20 or 30 times a day, so keep in mind doing it once or twice for a child with a snotty nose is inadequate. A word here about nasal bulb suctioning... There are a few things one should keep in mind when looking for a nasal bulb suction to use on your child.
- Make sure the nasal tip is rounded to prevent nasal trauma no matter how firmly you push against your child's nose
- Make sure you can see into the bulb to ensure adequate suctioning as well as to know when it needs to be cleaned
- Make sure it can be taken apart for cleaning
In our office, we do recommend two models that fit these criteria shown below (we DO sell the first two in our office):
Recommended due to these advantages:
• Rounded tip to prevent nasal trauma.
Watch video on YouTube (Starting at 30 seconds into the video)
Electronic Nasal Aspirator
Recommended due to these advantages:
• Clear snot catcher so you can see what you suctioned out (as well as know when it's time to clean it).
Downsides are these devices tend to break down easily and sometimes, the suction is not as strong as you may like. Typically, the more expensive the device, the better it works without breaking down quickly. One of the best ones out there is the NozeBot, a hospital grade suction machine for young kids.
Such devices can be purchased on Amazon
Generic Nasal Bulb Suction
NOT recommended in our practice because:
• Tip is pointed which may irritate the nose due to repeated traumatic insertion over time.
For older children, sinus rinses are also very helpful to help clear things out of the nose and sinus passages.
SO, what are some of the clues to help determine the actual cause and therefore guide treatment?
"Symptoms are all year round and does not seem related to illness or the seasons."
Adenoid Hypertrophy is a VERY common cause of this particular problem. Adenoidectomy is curative. However, risks of bleeding and swelling in the post-operative period is higher in kids less than 3 years of age and therefore is not recommended unless the child is truly suffering. Better to wait. Starting from the age of 2 years old, steroid nasal sprays for at least 3 months is something to try (read the research here and Cochrane review here). Turbinate hypertrophy and deviated septum are other less common causes, both treatable by surgery. Again, better to wait if possible. Rarely, anatomic problems such as choanal atresia may exist.
One test to help definitively determine what may be going on is Fiberoptic Nasal Endoscopy. This test is usually done at the time of the initial office visit.
"Symptoms occur mainly with fever and copious colored nasal drainage."
Most likely due to a viral illness (most common) followed by bacterial super-infection (bacteria super-infection means when a bacterial infection occurs in setting where viral illness is also present). Less common is bacterial infection alone. A viral component is most likely present if symptoms do improve partially with antibiotics followed by immediate recurrence of symptoms after antibiotics completed resulting in repeated courses of antibiotics. In this scenario, it is best to avoid antibiotics unless the child is quite ill as only time will allow for the viral illness to resolve which is the main problem. Conservative care with saline spray to the nose followed by bulb suctioning is recommended. Daily Xlear Nasal Spray may also be helpful along with sinus rinses for older children.
In rare cases, genetic abnormalities such as cystic fibrosis, immotile ciliary syndrome may be the root cause. If nasal polyps are seen in kids, the suspicion for genetic diseases increases. (Of note, adults may develop nasal polyps due to non-genetic diseases.)
If no fever is present, but drainage is an issue, allergies may be a problem.
"Nasal congestion with clear drainage, especially during certain times of the year. Crusty nose is also an issue."
Certainly sounds like allergies. Treatment with antihistamines and if older than 2 years, steroid nasal sprays is recommended. Saline spray followed by nasal bulb suctioning is also quite helpful in this situation. For older children, sinus rinses are helpful as well.
"Nasal congestion with worse drainage when eating as well as nasal air escape sounds while talking."
If food or drink comes out the nose while swallowing and / or if you hear air constantly coming out the nose while talking, the child may be suffering from velopharyngeal insufficiency or VPI. This condition is due to the inability of the soft palate to tightly close up against the back wall of the mouth when talking or swallowing. To read more about this condition, click here or instead, watch a video about this condition.
In this situation, removing the adenoids almost always makes these symptoms worse.
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