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How to Clear a Congested Baby's Stuffy Nose
Q: How can I clear my 3-month-old's stuffy nose? Should I take her to the doctor if she's had a stuffy nose for more than a week?
A: Leanne, it's very common for babies to have stuffy noses. Increased nasal mucus from a cold or allergies can make babies' breathing very noisy because they breathe through their noses rather than their mouths, their nostrils are very small, and they can't yet blow their noses to get the mucus out. In infants under 4 months of age, it's more common for a stuffy nose to interrupt feeding and sleeping.

There are a few things you can do to help relieve your baby's stuffy nose:
  • Run a cool-mist humidifier or vaporizer in your baby's room.The water vapor can help moisten and loosen your baby's nasal mucus. Keep the vaporizer near the crib to get the full effect from the water vapor. Be sure to empty, clean and dry out the vaporizer each day to prevent the growth of bacteria or mold. Don't use a hot water vaporizer because it can cause burns.
  • If your baby's nasal secretions are still too thick, considering using “normal saline solution” (salt water) nose drops. These are available at the pharmacy without a prescription. Tilt your baby's head back gently and use a clean baby dropper to put a couple of drops of saline into each nostril to loosen the mucus. Don't use other medicated nose drops since these could be harmful for a baby.
  • Use a soft rubber infant suction bulb to suck out her nasal mucus. Squeeze the bulb first, gently stick the rubber tip into one nostril, then release the bulb, sucking the mucus into the bulb. Squeeze out the bulb with the mucus into the sink, rinse out the bulb, then repeat for the other nostril. If your baby's nose is too congested to feed comfortably, you can use the saline nose drops and suction bulb before feedings. Since the suction bulb can irritate your baby's nose, try to limit how often you do this. In fact, you'll find that this technique works well for newborns and young infants, but not for older infants because they tend to fight the bulb.
Usually, babies recover from stuffy noses within a week or two without any problems. But be sure to call your doctor for any of the following signs of concern:
  • Nasal mucus turns thick and green;
  • Difficulty breathing, rapid breathing, persistent cough, flaring nostrils and skin pulling in around her ribs when she breathes, or lips turning blue;
  • Excessive fussiness, loss of appetite, or excessive sleeping;
  • Fever over 101 degrees rectally.
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician