How to Alleviate Cold and Sinus Symptoms in Older Children and Teens
Colds and sinus infections are a normal part of life, but what can you do when your older child or teen is struggling with the symptoms? Here are a few ways to help alleviate those symptoms and get them back feeling well again.
Common Cold/Sinus Infection Symptoms
Whether your child or teen has caught a cold from school or is having trouble and struggling with allergies, irritants, or some other type of significant change in their environment, these can often lead to any number of the following symptoms:
congestion in the nose, face, and eye areas
drainage that may lead to a sore throat and coughing
facial pain and headaches
green mucus (sometimes tinged with blood)
a gross taste in their mouth
oral pain or discomfort
general malaise (fatigue/tiredness)
On average, a cold or sinus infection should fade away on its own within about 10 to 14 days. However, here are some tips and recommendations for managing those pesky symptoms until the infection passes.
How to Help Your Older Child or Teen Manage Their Cold and Sinus Symptoms
When your children get a bit older and have moved out of the baby and toddler phases, you have a lot more flexibility and options when it comes to safely treating the symptoms of a cold or sinus infection when they're sick. You also have the huge benefit of improved communication compared to dealing with younger children, and this helps immensely when trying to find your kid a way to manage their symptoms until the worst of the infection has passed.
Here are some of the ways you can help make your older child or teen more comfortable.
Taking a warm/hot shower
When your child is officially large enough as well as responsible enough to use a shower instead of just a bathtub, this is a huge plus for the times in which they're sick. Steam is a miracle worker for relaxing achy muscles and clearing out those clogged airways.
Taking a warm or hot shower will help your child relax and feel a bit more comfortable, and it will also help them breathe easier and be able to blow out any loosened up mucus after breathing in the hot, humid air for a bit.
Using a humidifier
As mentioned in our list for how to help little ones breathe easier, a humidifier is amazing during sick periods regardless of your age. Dry air only aggravates sinus and nasal symptoms, but putting moisture back into the air with a humidifier will greatly help with congestion and the process of breaking up some of the gunk in your child's sinuses.
The most important thing to do no matter what you or your child have come down with is to stay hydrated. This is a lot easier to deal with when you have older children, so use that to your advantage.
Provide your child with plenty of fluids and electrolytes. Water, broths, sugar-free sports drinks, and specially formulated beverages like Pedialyte are all great options to keep them hydrated and get their bodies back healthy. If your child begins to experience dehydration, this can lead to serious health consequences if left unchecked.
Diffusing essential oils
This is not a magical cure-all for all individuals, but diffusing certain essential oils can help reduce the overall germ load within the home and your child's room as well as alleviate some of their symptoms.
When diffusing essential oils for the sake of sanitation, some good options are eucalyptus, lavender, tea tree, and Thieves. For making breathing easier, we personally recommend peppermint essential oil and eucalyptus.
(There are other options available as well, but some of these are not safe for pregnant women nor young children.)
Using warm compresses
A smaller child may fuss and not understand what you're doing, but older children and teens can easily utilize the help provided by warm compresses. Using a warm, wet rag to rest across your child's face (in the sinus areas: eyes/nose/forehead) can greatly alleviate some of the discomfort caused by congestion.
This helps break up the congested mucus to allow it to come out easier as well as help relax the inflamed areas and provide relief.
Nasal saline sprays
Another great option for older children is using a nasal saline spray. These can also be used by younger kids, but you're more likely to deal with some fussing and mishaps as well. For teens and those right below that age group, providing them with a nasal spray including saline is a highly effective way to provide relief from congestion and help get some of that much-hated mucus out of their sinus cavities.
This may not be the most comfortable tactic, but it's certainly effective.
OTC nasal sprays
Speaking of nasal sprays, older kids also eventually become able to use products like over-the-counter nasal sprays, such as Flonase, Zyrtec, Claritin, or Benadryl. These kid-friendly variations are perfectly suited for not-yet-adults and can provide relief from allergy and sinus symptoms as well as alleviate some of the nasal discomfort that comes along with colds, too.
If your child has ever had reactions to these medications or ones similar to them, has pre-existing eye conditions, or has been diagnosed with any other significant medical concerns, be sure to contact your pediatrician or trusted family physician before beginning any OTC medications.
Using a nasal irrigator/neti-pot
As an adult, I'm in love with my battery-powered nasal "pressure washer" that blasts out irritants, pollens, and everything else. Teens that are suffering with congestion and feeling absolutely miserable may be willing to handle how intense these are because the results are absolutely worth it. There's a slight learning and adjustment curve, but I 100% guarantee these are worth the initial shock.
For younger children, neti-pots are a less "hardcore" option for clearing out their nasal passages. Using a warm saline solution (pre-mixed is recommended), you can pour this warm cleaning solution through one side of the nose and it will come out of the other, taking plenty of mucus, germs, and infection right out along with it.
Regular nose-blowing (no more sucking up sniffles!)
Nose-blowing is a learned skill—one that many younger children simply can't figure out for a while. For your older child or teen, making sure they regularly blow their noses when sick is a simple and easy way to encourage the removal of congested mucus and infection.
Try to make sure they are constantly blowing the gunk in their noses OUT rather than snorting and sniffling and sucking it all back in.
Avoiding further irritants (pollen/smoke/dust/etc.)
This should be common sense, but if your child is sick with a cold or sinus infection, try to avoid further irritants as much as possible. It is absolutely foolish to let a child be exposed to secondhand smoke or other avoidable irritants when they are sickly and already struggling to fight off a viral infection.
If it's springtime, try to keep them out of the pollen if they're allergic or sensitive. Additionally, if your home or their particular room hasn't been cleaned in a while, take the time to wipe down any dust or other contaminants to provide a clean, fresh environment for them to heal up and start feeling better.
Staying propped up instead of lying down
When you've got a fever and are sick and feeling weak, lying down seems like the best possible option. However, when your body goes horizontal, you're only going to get even more clogged up and feel even worse.
Your kid may whine and complain, but be sure to keep them at least slightly propped up when they're in bed to make breathing easier and reduce the severity of congestion.
Using a facial steamer
This was a great tactic I just recently discovered, but facial steamers work fantastically in place of using steam from a shower or trying to shove your face over a humidifier. They're designed to safely warm up enough to open your pores and steam your face clean, but they work even better for clearing out your airways and loosening up congestion.
For older children or teens that are willing to sit or stand in place for a while and breathe in the steam from one of these useful devices, it will greatly help when their sinuses and inflamed and making them miserable.
OTC pain relievers
When body aches and inflammation are making your kid just feel awful, using age-appropriate, over-the-counter pain relievers is a good way to provide some relief as well as deal with any fevers. Your options for these vary as your child grows regarding their height and weight, but it is generally still recommended to simply go with ibuprofen or acetaminophen for those below the age of 18.
If you have any questions or concerns about using these, be sure to contact your pediatrician or family physician before use.
Lastly, one of the best things you can do for your child when they're sick is to make sure they get enough rest. Allowing them to sleep off their sickness is one of the best ways to avoid aggravating symptoms and allow their bodies to fight off the viruses and infections that have found their way in.
Be sure to wake them up for regular temperature checks, hydration, and healthy meals; otherwise, let them sleep, and let their immune systems do what they were designed to do.
When to Call a Doctor
If a fever is high or persistent or if your child's symptoms are concerningly severe, be sure to consult your child's doctor regarding the best way to proceed with treatment. High fevers, digestive symptoms that only worsen, breathing that becomes difficult or rapid, or a persistent or severe cough are all causes for concern and should not be ignored.
If you do not currently have a doctor or pediatrician, we recommend using ZocDoc to narrow down search results based on insurance, location, and other factors to help you find the perfect match.
For children that are younger, be sure to check out our other list for How to Alleviate Cold and Sinus Symptoms in Toddlers and Babies.