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Nasal Congestion : How to clear your baby's dry, stuffy nose

Closeup of a baby's nose Closeup of a babys nose  

Stuffy nose or nasal congestion happens when the tissues inside the nose swell or produce mucus. A newborn with a stuffy nose may snort when breathing and sound "snuffly." In the first few days of life, a newborn may sound like they have a stuffy nose because in the womb they were surrounded by fluid. Sometimes they sneeze for the first couple of days as they try to get rid of this leftover fluid in their nasal passages. 

If your baby has a stuffy nose they may breathe through their mouth, which can make it harder for them to feed. In rare cases, a stuffy nose can cause breathing problems. Usually, nasal congestion goes away on its own within a week. 

Extremely dry air can cause the sensitive lining of a baby’s nose to dry up. The blood vessels inside a dry nose may break and bleed​. If your baby’s nose has not been injured but it bleeds, it may be because of a dry nose. This dryness may also make it easier for a baby to get a cold. 

Nasal dryness often worsens during cold winter months, when heating makes the air inside the home dry. 

What causes stuffy nose in babies? 

  • dry air 
  • irritants such as dust, cigarette smoke, or perfumes 
  • viral illnesses (such as a cold) 

Try the measures below to help your baby’s dry or stuffy nose. If your baby keeps having difficulty breathing or feeding, check with your baby’s doctor to rule out any infection or condition that may be causing the stuffy nose. 

How to soothe your baby’s dry ​nose 

If a dry or irritated nose seems to be bothering your baby, try these tips: 

Moisten your bab​y’s nose 

You can buy salt water (saline) drops at the drug store. 

  1.  Lay your child on their back. Place a rolled towel or a small blanket beneath their shoulders or gently press on the tip of the nose to make it easier for the drops to go in. 
  2. Put 2 or 3 saline drops into each nostril. Wait 30 to 60 seconds before draining your baby's nose. 

Run a h​umidifier or cool-mist vaporizer near your baby’s crib 

If your baby has a dry nose they may also have a stuffy nose. Water vapor can help moisten and loosen the mucus inside your baby’s nose. Clean out and re-fill the vaporizer every day. You can also steam up the bathroom shower and bring your baby in the room before he sleeps. 

How to clear your child’s stuffy n​ose 

In addition to running a humidifier or vaporizer near your baby’s crib, you can also clear the mucus using saline nose drops. 

Clearing m​ucus using saline nose drops 

  1. Lay your child on their back. Place a rolled towel or a small blanket beneath their shoulders or gently press on the tip of the nose to make it easier for the drops to go in. 
  2. Put 2 or 3 saline nose drops into each nostril. Wait 30 to 60 seconds. 
  3. Turn your child onto their stomach to help their nose drain. Catch the mucus outside the nostril with a tissue or swab. Your baby might cough or sneeze the mucus and saline out. 
  4. Roll the swab or tissue around the outside of the nostril to draw the fluid out of the nose. Do not insert a cotton swab into your child’s nostrils. 

Clearing mucus using an infant nasal suction bulb 

If you have trouble removing the mucus, try using an infant nasal bulb (aspirator). 

  1. Pinch the air out of the bulb. 
  2. Gently place the tip into the nostril, just inside the opening. Do not go too deep or you can cause damage to the inner part of the nose. Let the air come back into the bulb, pulling the mucus out of the nose with it.
  3. Release the mucus onto a tissue. 
  4. Rinse the bulb well with fresh water before and after each use. 
 

 How to use a nasal aspirator or suction bulb

 

When to see a doctor 

Call your doctor if your child develops any of the following symptoms: 

  • fever 
  • rash 
  • a stuffy nose together with swelling of the forehead, eyes, side of the nose or cheek. a stuffy nose that lasts longer than two weeks 
  • difficulty breathing or breathing quickly 
  • significant trouble feeding or not interested in feeding
  • your baby is extremely fussy or seems to be in pain 

Key points

  • Nasal congestion or stuffy nose happens when the tissues inside the nose swell. 
  • Usually, nasal congestion goes away on its own within a week. 
  • Use saltwater nasal drops or an infant nasal suction bulb to help clear mucus from your baby’s nose.
  • If your baby has trouble breathing after suctioning, see your doctor right away.

Reviewed by

Elly Berger, BA, MD, FRCPC, FAAP, MHPE

11/8/2013




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