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Causes of Baby Congestion (And When to Visit The Doctor)

Causes of Baby Congestion (And When to Visit The Doctor)

Guest Post By Genevieve Kane, MSN, RN

Caring for a baby with a stuffy nose can be challenging. Babies breathe through their nose and very young babies don’t easily breathe through their mouths. For a young infant, they may cry or scream and breathe through their mouth when doing so. However, their main way to breathe is through their nose. 

 So when babies get a stuffy nose, it can cause several problems. For example, if a baby is stuffy, they may have difficulty feeding since they won’t be able to breathe through their nose easily while they eat. A persistent stuffy nose in a young infant can also cause difficulty with breathing.

Causes of Baby Congestions (And When to Visit The Doctor)

Causes of Baby Congestion and When To See a Healthcare Provider

If you notice your little one seems congested, here are some common causes of baby congestion, how to help ease their congestion, and when to visit your healthcare provider.

Causes of Nasal Congestion in Babies

If your baby’s nose seems stuffy, there are a few common culprits. These include dried mucus in their nose, allergies, and a cold or other illness. Another possibility is irritation from tobacco smoke, dust, or strong odors, per the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Dried mucus: Nasal mucus is simply boogers. These can be just a part of daily life, or your baby may have extra nasal mucus due to other causes such as a cold or allergies. You may notice nasal noises. However, clearing the extra mucus should increase your baby's comfort.

Allergies: There are several causes of allergies in young babies and infants. They could be seasonal allergies, such as pollen. Or they could be caused by common culprits in the home, such as animal dander or mold.

If you suspect allergies, there may also likely be additional symptoms. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, other symptoms of allergies may include watery, itchy, or red eyes, an itchy nose, sneezing, and chronic issues with the ears due to inflammation and fluid accumulation. 

Other Irritants: If someone in the home smokes around the babyeven if they do it outdoorsthe chemicals may still end up in their hair and clothes, which can irritate the baby’s nose when they are held. Additionally, strong perfumes or dust can cause a runny nose too.

Cold or Illness: A stuffy nose may happen if your little one catches a cold or respiratory bug like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) or the flu. If your child is sick, you may notice other signs and symptoms, such as a fever or cough.

Causes of Baby Congestion

Ways to Help Your Baby with Nasal Congestion

Fortunately, there are several ways to help your baby with nasal congestion feel more comfortable.  

If your little one has a stuffy nose and you notice dried or stuck mucus, you can try infant saline nasal sprays or drops, per the AAP. Other ways to help loosen secretions include turning on a warm shower and spending time with your child in the humid bathroom.  

Additionally, since dry air can contribute to thicker mucus, using a cool mist humidifier in your child’s bedroom may help. Just make sure to clean it regularly.

Also, keeping your child hydrated and offering plenty of age-appropriate fluids can help thin out secretions. Depending on your baby’s age, this typically means formula or breast milk if they are under 6 months old, unless advised otherwise by a healthcare provider. For older babies, you can typically offer water and other fluids.. 

Nasal suction can also help clear out a stuffy nose. The NozeBot is a great tool to help with this and can be far more efficient and effective than a nasal bulb. There are several tips and tricks for helping your baby adjust to using the NozeBot.

As a word of caution, the AAP recommends not using a saline spray or drops in a baby’s nose more than four times daily. A good time to consider drops is right before feeding. Sometimes babies with stuffy noses have difficulty eating since they need to suck to eat and can’t breathe through their nose easily due to congestion. Using saline and suctioning before a feed can help make the feeding easier.

It’s also important to note that while a warm washcloth may be used to clean the nose, it is important to never stick a cotton swab in the baby’s nose to try and clear congestion.

Ways to Help Your Baby with Nasal Congestion

When to Visit a Healthcare Provider

While most cases of nasal congestion will resolve on their own, there are a few reasons to reach out to a healthcare provider and seek medical care.

Difficulty Breathing: A runny nose may accompany a cold, illness, or allergic reaction. If at any point you notice your child with a stuffy nose having difficulty breathing, it is essential to seek medical attention immediately.

Infant Less Than 12 Weeks With Fever: If your baby is less than twelve weeks and one of their accompanying symptoms is a fever, they need to be seen by a healthcare provider to rule out more serious causes of a stuffy nose and fever. If your little one is older and has a fever, you may want to touch base with your healthcare provider to determine when to be seen if the fever persists.

You Think Your Baby Has an Earache: Sometimes nasal congestion, caused by allergies or a cold, can contribute to fluid and inflammation in one or both ears. If your baby seems extra fussy or is tugging at their ears, they may have an ear infection. It’s a good idea to reach out to your healthcare provider to see what their recommendations are and if you should come in.  

Something Feels Off: As the parent or caregiver, you are the expert on your child. If something feels off or you are concerned, reaching out to a healthcare provider for advice and guidance is always ok.

Key Takeaways

Several common causes of nasal congestion in babies include allergies, environmental irritants, dried mucus, and illness. While it can be hard to care for a little one with a stuffy nose, fortunately, you can take several steps to help your little one feel better. 

If they aren’t getting better or have other symptoms along with a runny nose, they may need to see a healthcare provider. A healthcare provider can help with whether or not medication might be appropriate and help provide other solutions so your little one feels better.

If you're looking for more information, try these:

Genevieve Kane, MSN, RN, is a mother of four and a registered nurse with a background in pediatrics. When she's not working, you can find her cooking up tasty family dinners or keeping up with her kids on a hiking trail in her home state of Colorado.

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