Our 4 year old son gets a stuffy nose a couple times a day. If he gets upset and cries it will get stuffy, and oftentimes as he goes to bed it will get stuffy from the transition to laying down. If he calms down/lies still for 5 minutes it will clear up.

Unfortunately, he's gotten into a habit of, when he gets even a tiny bit stuffy, he'll start scrunching his face and sniffing hard, which rapidly makes it so much worse. He'll then get upset about it, and it's a self-reinforcing cycle. Soon he can focus on nothing except that he's stuffy and can't breathe, and throws a fit about it.

We've tried explaining that just breathing calmly and waiting is the best thing to do, but he gets mad about it. Any suggestions for just dealing with it while waiting for it to clear?

2 Answers 2


Is it cold-related? If he is not allergic to Olbas Oil, then having some drops on his pyjamas (on the front, away from the skin) might help. We did this quite often for our 3 children when the have stuffy noses.

For non-medicinal help, I also find that distraction can be a good way to easy the stuffiness as by being distracted, the breathing becomes less forced and less pressure is placed on the nasal area, allowing better air flow. Do you read him a story? Try something with funny voices or interesting pictures. Any distraction will help!

Finally, a third option (which helps for both coughs and blocked sinuses) is to have an open-topped kettle boiling water in the room to create steam which alleviates the nasal areas when blocked. The open-top is vital as it allows for better steam expulsion and a longer boil time. Obviously, you will need to make considerations for the dangers involved in having water boiling in the room. Please use every caution for this sort of thing and make sure that the kettle is out of reach and in a safe and stable place. And that the plug / wire is out of the way and also safe.

The sound of the boiling kettle is also quite calming for a child (it was for me at least, when I was a child) and will give him something to focus on (and be distracted by).

  • In addition to the remedies above, giving him something that he can use himself to "help you breath better" might also help. Maybe an over-the-counter gel with eucalyptus or peppermint that he can use whenever he feels stuffy...having something that he can use whenever he feels he needs it might make him feel more in control and thus reduce the panic cycle. It would be more placebo than medicine, but I have a lot of respect for the power of placebo. Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 18:38
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    Rather than a kettle of boiling water, a humidifier will achieve the same result much more safely.
    – Kryten
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 20:41
  • This is a great answer, and I agree with Kryten in regards to a humidifier instead of boiling water, but I'd like to point out that sometimes warm air/steam can increase swelling, which, if the stuffiness is caused by swollen nasal passages rather than boogies, might not help. My son has allergies which cause swelling and a stuffy nose and I have found very cold air plus moisture (I use a saline gel which lasts longer and is more comfortable than spray) works best. Bundle up the child and drop the temp. And, singing is a fun way to encourage mouth breathing, btw.
    – Jax
    Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 13:36

In addition to @Danny's strong answer, here are few more ideas:

  • saline spray

  • help him learn to blow his nose (his doctor could help explain why this is important, and you could read http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1859222.The_Biggest_Nose together)

  • inhale chamomile tea with the help of a towel tent (you could drape the towel over both of you together; note children can't handle as high a temperature, as adults can, when inhaling)

  • perhaps a yoga for children class would be helpful, for learning deep, slow breathing for self-calming

  • develop some family jokes about talking in a funny, nasal style by putting a clothespin on your nose

  • check whether allergies may be involved; perhaps an anti-dust mite pillow, and an anti-dust mite mattress cover would be helpful

  • perhaps step into a steamy bathroom together when one of these episodes is coming on?

  • raise the head of the bed

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