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My baby has a constant runny nose. Should I worry?

The question

My 17-month-old son has had a runny nose for close to the last year. The mucous is the thick yellow type. Our doctor says second children are sick 10 out of 12 months for the first 3 years and not to worry. The runny nose coincided with a move to a new house and town. Am I right to worry or should I back off and listen to the doctor?

The answer

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A runny nose for as long as one year associated with discoloured mucous concerns me.

Since it coincides with a move to a new house in a new town, one must also consider allergies as a possible cause. Nasal allergies may be associated with sneezing, itching, nasal congestion and a constant discharge. The patient with allergies may also rub the nose often on his sleeve. We call that a "violin sign" because they move the arm back and forth, like playing a violin, trying to rub the bothering secretions away (instead of blowing their noses)

Preschoolers can experience as many as 8 infections or colds in one year and still be normal. But if there are associated allergies, the risk for complications such as secondary bacterial infections is higher. Fevers associated with the thick yellow discharge, and coughing more at night will also make me more concerned.

A clinical diagnosis of frequent viral upper airway infections with associated allergies or secondary bacterial infections is very likely in your 17-month-old toddler.

Consider these tips:

  • Wash his hands often (for as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday to You” twice;
  • Ensure at least 8-9 hours of sleep consistently every night;
  • Keep the mucous membranes in the nose moist;
  • Rinse his nose with salt water when the discharge gets discoloured;
  • Have him eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables - especially berries which are high in antioxidants and vitamin C.

If these episodes fail to resolve his runny nose, get an allergist to check for possible allergies

Send pediatrician Peter Nieman your questions at He will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

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