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

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

Caring for a newborn with baby congestion can be a challenge. Babies breathe primarily through their noses, so when your newborn gets a stuffy nose, it can cause all manner of problems — from difficulty feeding to outright crankiness.

Thankfully, there are things you can do to help your baby feel better fast.

In this article, we discuss some of the common causes of baby congestion, how to help ease their congestion, and when to visit your healthcare provider.

baby congestion

Causes of Baby Congestion

If your baby’s nose seems stuffy, there are a few common culprits.

  • These include:
  • Dried mucus in their nose
  • Allergies
  • A cold
  • Some other illness
  • Airborne irritation (e.g., smoke, dust, strong odors)

Let’s discuss each of those in a bit more detail.

Dried Mucus

Nasal mucus is simply boogers that can cause difficulty breathing as well as noises in your baby’s nose. Dried mucus can appear as part of your baby’s daily life, or they may have extra nasal mucus due to some other cause (such as a cold or allergy).

As we’ll discuss later, clearing the extra mucus should make your baby more comfortable and help them breathe easily again.


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, look for other tell-tale symptoms.

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, other symptoms of allergies may include:

  • Watery eyes
  • Itchy eyes
  • Red eyes
  • Itchy nose
  • Sneezing

Allergies may also cause inflammation and fluid accumulation in the ears, which can lead to chronic ear issues.

If you notice baby congestion along with one or several of these other symptoms, talk to your doctor about the possibility that your little one may be allergic to something.

Cold or Illness


baby with a fever

A stuffy nose may happen if your little one catches a cold or respiratory bug, like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), or the flu.

How will you know if it’s something more serious like this? The baby congestion may be accompanied by other symptoms such as a fever or cough.

If your little one has a stuffy nose and a fever or cough, talk to your health provider about what to do next.

Airborne Irritants

Another common cause of baby congestion is airborne irritants such as tobacco smoke, vapor, dust, air pollution, and perfumes (and other strong odors).


Even if someone only smokes outside, the chemicals from cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and vaporizers may still end up on their hands, on their clothes, and in their hair.

These chemicals can spread through the air and into your baby’s nose where they can cause congestion.

To keep your baby from developing a stuffy nose, limit (or eliminate) this airborne irritant from their environment as much as possible.


Dust is one of the most common causes of baby congestion because the airborne irritant can be found pretty much everywhere. The dust may be of the regular old household variety, or it could be the type that’s stirred up by construction or farming activities in your area.

One of the best things you can do when it comes to dust is to keep your baby’s environment as clean and dust-free as possible.

Depending on where you live, that may mean running a dust rag or mop over horizontal surfaces and vacuuming carpets once or twice a week. If you live in a particularly dusty area, you may have to dust and vacuum more often.

Air Pollution

If you live in a big city — or, sometimes, even near a big city — air pollution may be the cause of your baby’s stuffy nose.

If you suspect this type of airborne irritant, consider investing in an air purifier for your home and talk to your doctor about other steps you can take.

You may find that as your baby grows and their immune system gets stronger, they won’t be as susceptible to the type of baby congestion caused by air pollution.

Again, visit your doctor for advice about this type of airborne irritant.

Strong Odors

Sometimes, even strong odors can cause baby congestion.

Heavy perfumes are one of the biggest culprits in this regard, but other odors like household cleaners, air fresheners, scented soaps, and scented detergents can irritate your little one’s nasal passages and lead to baby congestion.

If you suspect that an odor may be giving your baby a stuffy nose, stop using heavily-scented products for a while to see if that helps the condition clear up.

Your baby may also be allergic to certain scents, so it never hurts to consult your family healthcare provider to see if they have any suggestions.

Ways to Help Your Baby with Nasal Congestion

Ways to Help Your Baby with Nasal Congestion

Talking to a physician about baby congestion is always a good option, but there are other things you can try first to relieve your little one’s symptoms and help them feel more comfortable.

Saline Nasal Spray

If your little one is suffering from baby congestion and you notice dried mucus plugging their nose, try administering an infant saline nasal spray or nasal drops.

Saline nasal sprays and drops are typically just water and salt mixed together into a solution so you don’t have to worry about giving your baby medications that could cause other side effects.

The saline solution (salt water) in the sprays and drops draws moisture out of your little one’s nasal tissue to reduce swelling and helps soften and dissolve baby congestion (dried mucus) so you’ll have an easier time removing it.

In infants and babies, saline sprays and drops can be used to treat stuffy noses brought on by issues like:

  • The common cold
  • Influenza (flu)
  • Allergies (including hay fever)
  • Sinusitis
  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)

If you choose to give your baby saline nasal spray or drops, read the entire label first and be sure to follow the instructions.

As a word of caution, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends only using saline sprays and drops in your baby’s nose up to four times a day and no more than that.

A good time to consider sprays and drops is right before feeding.

Sometimes a baby with a stuffy nose will have difficulty eating because they need to suck to eat and can’t breathe through their nose easily due to congestion. Using saline and suctioning (more on this later) before a feed can help make it easier for your little one to feed.

It’s also important to note that while you can use a warm washcloth to clean your baby’s nose, never use a cotton swab to clear congestion.

Warm Shower or Bath

baby after a warm bath to help with baby congestion

Another way to help loosen baby congestion is with a warm shower or bath. Running hot water introduces humid air into the environment, so simply spending time with your little one in an enclosed room with high humidity can help reduce the symptoms of a stuffy nose.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to take your baby into the shower or place them in the bath (i.e., get them wet) for this to be effective. Simply closing the bathroom door and running hot, steamy water can help.

You can also try introducing a scent into the steam to help reduce congestion. Essential oil options include:

  • Eucalyptus
  • Tea tree
  • Peppermint
  • Rosemary
  • Clary sage
  • Lemon
  • Lavender

Whichever scent you choose, use only one or two drops (to a full bathtub of water) at a time so you don’t overwhelm your little one’s delicate system.

Cool Mist Humidifier

Dry air can cause the mucus in your little one’s nose to become thicker — a stuffy nose instead of a runny nose — and make their baby congestion even worse.

As we mentioned in the previous section, introducing moisture into the air by running a hot shower or bath can help reduce the symptoms brought on by a stuffy nose.

You can also try running a cool mist humidifier in your baby’s bedroom to raise the moisture level in their environment so their mucus doesn’t become thick to the point that it plugs up their nose and restricts breathing.

If you want to add a scent to the humidifier, try one or two drops of eucalyptus, tea tree, peppermint, rosemary, clary sage, lemon, or lavender.

Age-Appropriate Fluids

Also, keeping your child hydrated and offering plenty of age-appropriate fluids can help thin out the mucus in their nose and help relieve the symptoms of baby congestion.

For newborns under six months, this means formula or breast milk (unless advised differently by a healthcare provider). For older babies, you can typically offer water and other fluids.

If you have questions about what constitutes “age-appropriate fluids,” talk to a doctor, pediatrician, or other healthcare provider.

Nasal Suction

Nasal suction is one of the most effective ways to clear out a stuffy nose and relieve the symptoms of baby congestion.

The NozeBot is a great tool to help with this and can be far more efficient and effective than a nasal bulb.

The process is simple:

  • Place your index and middle fingers into the finger grip of the nosepiece
  • Allow the tubing to drape over the back of your hand
  • Turn on the device
  • Choose your level of suction (we recommend always starting on low)
  • Gently place the nozzle into your baby’s left nostril
  • Switch the nozzle to your baby’s right nostril

That’s it — baby can breathe easy again. Hooray!

For more tips and tricks, check out this article from the Dr. Noze Best blog: How to Introduce the NozeBot to Your Baby.

When to Visit a Healthcare Provider

healthcare provider helping with baby congestion

While most cases of baby congestion will clear up on their own, there are a few instances when it’s a good idea to reach out to seek medical care.

Difficulty Breathing

A stuffy or runny nose is a common symptom of a cold, illness, or allergic reaction, but if at any time you notice your little one having difficulty breathing, take them to their doctor immediately.


If your little one is less than twelve weeks old and has baby congestion and a fever, schedule them for a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible.

Fevers are a normal response to a wide variety of illnesses, but your newborn’s immune system isn’t running at 100% yet, so their body can have a hard time dealing with the high temperature.

Visiting a healthcare provider for advice — regardless of your baby’s age — can help you rule out more serious causes of a stuffy nose and fever.

Ear Infection

Sometimes nasal congestion from allergies or a cold can cause inflammation and fluid buildup 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 they recommend.

Something Feels Off

As the parent or caregiver, you are the expert on your child. If something feels off or you’re concerned, don’t be afraid to reach out to a healthcare provider for advice and guidance.

Even if it’s nothing, it’s always OK to ask questions!

Bye-bye, Baby Congestion!

Dad helping with baby congestion

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 steps to help them feel better right away.

If they aren’t getting better or they develop other symptoms in addition to the stuffy nose, consider consulting with a healthcare provider to see if medication might be appropriate.

And, remember, a healthy baby is a happy baby! So, to prevent baby congestion from becoming a bigger issue:

  • Keep your little one’s environment clean
  • Limit their exposure to tobacco smoke and vapor
  • Consider running an air purifier to reduce air pollution
  • Eliminate strong odors

Follow these tips and use the Dr. Noze Best NozeBot when stuffy noses strike, and your little one will feel better in no time!

If you’re looking for more information, try these articles:


Let the NozeBot help manage congestion

The Nozebot is a battery-powered suction device designed to clear nasal congestion in babies and children.

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