Nasal congestion in infants is almost a universal phenomenon, occurring in infants below 6 months of age. Nasal congestion is the result of inflammation of the blood vessels, which in turn causes the tissue lining of the nose to get swollen. This inflammation results in obstruction of the nasal passage, causing the infant to get very irritated, be very fussy and keep awake all night.
Infants breathe only through their nose (as they cannot breathe through their mouths for the first 6 months) and will insist on breathing through their nostrils, even though it is blocked. Babies need clear nostrils while feeding, as they have the nipple in their mouth. Thus, a congested nose hampers their feeding patterns, as they won't be able to breathe through their nose. The inability to breathe properly causes irritation to the baby, which in turn concerns and frustrates the mother, thereby, affecting the flow of breast milk. It's a vicious cycle.
Causes of Nasal Congestion in Infants
Nasal congestion in babies is caused by more or less the same factors that cause a runny nose. The causes of nasal congestion are as follows:
- Cold and Flu
- Common cold
- Allergies or hay fever
- Abnormally small nasal passage
- Sinus infection
- Continued exposure to irritants
- Vasomotor rhinitis
- Overuse of some nasal sprays or drops
Moreover, since babies are quite exploratory, they may pick up a cold virus, by mouthing or touching some toys, etc. Newborn babies have a developing immune system, which is why they are more vulnerable to catching common cold. Babies encounter 4-10 bouts of common cold in their first year itself.
Is Nasal Congestion Harmful?
Nasal congestion during the first few months of an infant's life, interferes not just with the feeding and sleeping patterns, but can also interfere with their hearing and speech development. Moreover, episodes of not breathing while sleeping or snoring can also be seen during such congestion periods.
Nasal congestion in newborns should not be neglected, as it can lead to life-threatening breathing problems. It is different from the nasal congestion occurring in older children and adolescents, where it is just an annoyance. Though not a serious issue, nasal congestion can lead to flu, ear infections or even pneumonia.
How to Treat Nasal Congestion in Infants?
Since the baby breathes only through his or her mouth for the first six months, it is important to keep the baby's nose clear, so as to prevent disruptions during sleeping or feeding. In case of a nasal congestion, one should purchase a humidifier, which will maintain a certain level of moisture in the air. This will take care of the dry air irritating the baby's nasal passages.
Mostly, pediatricians recommend the use of saline nasal drops to clear nasal congestion. However, these drops should also be administered only after consulting the pediatrician. With a help of the dropper, insert 2 to 3 drops of saline solution into the nostrils (one at a time) of your infant and wait for a minute for the dried mucus to soften up. Then use a nasal aspirator to suction out the mucus. An infant nasal aspirator helps remove the mucus in the nasal tract, when congestion is severe. A nasal aspirator is a bulbous suction device, which sucks out the mucus from the nostrils. Use the nasal aspirator before feeding and bedtime.
Another home remedy for nasal congestion is elevating the baby's sleeping position. You can do this by placing a small pillow under the sheet in the crib. You can also get your baby to sleep in the car seat. The elevated position will prevent the mucus from blocking the nasal passages, thereby enabling your little one to sleep peacefully at night.
There are some over-the-counter medicines like decongestants which are available and which provide relief from a stuffy nose. These decongestants reduce the inflammation in the nose linings, thereby relieving nasal congestion. These medicines come in the form of sprays and drops, however, should not be used for more than 3 days. This is because, excess use can aggravate the congestion. However, this is only suitable for stuffy nose and does not treat runny nose. You need to check with a pediatrician about the use of decongestants, as they are not good for infant health.
Do not try any of these treatment methods without consulting the pediatrician. Infants are very delicate and any medication given to treat nasal congestion in infants, has to be strictly done under the supervision of the pediatrician.