How to Alleviate Cold and Sinus Symptoms in Toddlers and Babies
Updated: Mar 5, 2022
Colds and sinus infections are a normal part of life, but what can you do when your baby or toddler is struggling through the symptoms? Here are a few ways to help alleviate symptoms and make them more comfortable.
Common Cold/Sinus Infection Symptoms
Whether your little one has caught a cold from somewhere or is having trouble with allergies, irritants, or some 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 one's mouth
general malaise (fatigue/tiredness)
trouble with nursing or taking a bottle
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 Baby or Toddler Manage Their Cold and Sinus Symptoms
Having your baby or toddler get sick is one of the most distressing and exhausting parts of your little one growing up. When your baby can't breathe well and won't eat or drink due to congestion or is constantly swallowing drainage and then vomiting once it builds up in that sensitive little tummy, it's easy to get overwhelmed in no time and desperately try to find a way to get your little one feeling better and get life returning remotely back to normal ASAP.
Parents are quite limited when it comes to kids in the baby and toddler age ranges since they're far more restricted when it comes to medications and other methods of alleviating sinus and cold symptoms. However, there are still quite a few ways to help your baby or toddler deal with the unpleasant side effects until they get well again.
Using a Humidifier
This was always a thing when I was growing up, and I never understood why. Now that I'm grown and have children of my own, I've learned just how miraculous these machines are for a child struggling with congestion. Dry air can worsen most symptoms affecting the airways, but keeping moisture in the air with a humidifier allows them to breathe easier and also helps some of that gunk loosen up and come out.
(Adding essential oils like eucalyptus and peppermint also makes this option even more appealing as they'll improve breathability and make your home smell nice at the same time. There are also other essential oils that can be beneficial when dealing with germs and sickness, but that's a post for another day.)
Use a Bulb Syringe (or Other Suction Device)
I was quite weirded out and confused by these when my oldest was born and it was my first time seeing them, but they do actually help sometimes when any mucus is loosened up and still stuck in their teeny tiny noses (especially when they need to blow those noses but don't know how yet).
It may not be the most comfortable item for them in your arsenal, but it does work reasonably well when you're actually able to wrangle your little one and hold them still long enough to safely use it. Always be sure to clean it well after every use, though!
Additionally, there are now other suction devices available as well, such as the NoseFrida. I personally never got to use this product for either of my kids, but it looks incredibly effective and most of the reviews I've seen have praised it like crazy compared to using standard suction bulbs.
Increase Their Fluid Intake
Regardless of what your little one is afflicted with, one of the most important things you can do when they're under the weather is keep them well hydrated. They're going to have a lot coming out of their faces while sick with a cold or sinus infection, but keeping them hydrated is only going to further help all of that gunk break up and come out more easily.
Water and formula are the ideal fluid options, but Pedialyte and other child-safe electrolyte drinks may also be appropriate in these situations. Consult your pediatrician regarding which products are safe to use based on your child's age and any other health concerns.
Avoid Further Air Contaminants
This seems like it should be common sense, but when your child is sick with something that's affecting their head, face, and/or respiratory tract, it's incredibly wise to avoid exposing them to any further contaminants.
Keep them away from secondhand smoke, dusty or unclean environments, and try to avoid pollen if it's springtime and the world is coated in yellow. Using an air purifier is a great practice to do in general, but it's especially helpful during times when your child is sick. You want the air that they breathe to be as pure and as healthy as possible.
Warm Baths/Steamy Showers
When we're congested and feeling sickly as adults, there isn't much better than a warm, steamy shower to relax our bodies and help clear out our airways. Luckily, this applies to our children as well. If you're the parent of a smaller baby or a smaller child, stepping into a steamy shower while holding them is a great way to clean them up, help them relax, and allow them to get the benefits of the hot, moist air. Just be sure to avoid letting overly warm or hot water get on them and cause any burns or discomfort. If your toddler is a bit more independent and you have the space for it, they can also stand inside of the shower or sit on a small stool to breathe in the steam and help alleviate some of their congestion.
Although the benefits of steam helping your baby or toddler breathe easier may only be gained from a steamy shower, a warm bath is also great for helping your little one relax and be more comfortable while the rest of their body fights off the cold or sinus infection. Be careful if they're having symptoms involving a fever, though.
Additionally, if you're unable to actually get into the shower with your child, you can also try running your shower on hot and closing your bathroom door to steam up the entire room to help with their symptoms.
For toddlers, you also have a few additional options that may not be suitable for younger babies:
Nasal saline sprays
Some of these sprays may still be possible to use with little ones, but the situation can get messy and uncomfortable quickly. However, there are now pediatric and kid-friendly nasal sprays available that are less intense compared to adult nasal saline sprays, and they work wonders.
I've personally used one of these with my youngest when she was struggling with sinus and cold symptoms, and she's not overly fond of having it sprayed up her nose, but it would rapidly provide relief and help some of her congestion and mucus come out in no time. I don't think anyone of any age particularly likes nasal sprays, but this is about as good as it gets.
Note: We've had much better luck with the sprays compared to the drops, but those are also an option if for some reason you'd prefer those instead. I don't know why the drops are even a thing, tbh, when they're much more likely to cause coughing and gagging by comparison, but to each their own. You do you.
OTC Pain Relievers
When it comes to both colds and sinus infections, neither of these are affected by antibiotics; therefore, they should not be used unless an additional infection that requires them has developed alongside these two conditions. It is also recommended to avoid giving decongestants to younger children, which will be addressed further below.
Despite these warnings, using over-the-counter pain relievers (ibuprofen or acetaminophen only) is still considered safe for most children. Do not give young children aspirin. When using acetaminophen or ibuprofen, the dosage is dependent upon the medication chosen and the child's age and weight. These medications will always have the recommended dosing instruction listed on the labels, but be sure to contact your pediatrician if your child has any underlying health issues, does not meet the standard guidelines regarding weight and size for their age, or is under the age of 2.
When used properly, these medications have been proven to be effective in helping lower one's fever as well as reduce the discomfort caused by body aches, headaches, congestion, and inflammation.
A Note of Caution Regarding Medications
It is not recommended to give any types of medications containing decongestants or other similar ingredients (like antihistamines) to children below the age of 2 due to the risk of serious and often life-threatening side effects. If your child is struggling with their symptoms or has a fever of 100.4°F or above, contact your pediatrician for further medical advice on how to safely provide care until the infection passes.
When to See a Doctor
Sinus infections and colds are a normal part of life, and everyone tends to deal with them eventually. Although the most common course of action is to simply ride these two illnesses out and try to manage the symptoms to the best of your abilities, there are a few instances in which you should be sure to contact your doctor:
If your child's symptoms only continue to worsen
If your child has a fever of 100.4°F or higher
If their fever is recurring or lasts over three days
If they get a sore throat that does not improve within 5 days
If they have a cough that is persistent or severe
If they have trouble breathing or begin breathing rapidly
If their nasal discharge is thick, green, and persists for multiple days
If they have any green or yellow eye discharge
If they begin struggling with sleeplessness that isn't normal for them
If medications and other methods do not alleviate symptoms at all
If your child is getting sinus infections or colds on a regular basis
When any of the above occur, be sure to contact your doctor or pediatrician as soon as possible.
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 older, be sure to check out our other list for How to Alleviate Cold and Sinus Symptoms in Older Children and Teens.