Nasal congestion—no matter your age—isn’t comfortable. It can make breathing difficult, your head feel foggy and even your throat scratchy. As adults, we can reach for a tissue and over-the-counter meds for help, but for babies and toddlers, their snot is another story. Often, they are at the mercy of their parents.
“Babies are built to breathe out of their noses. They aren’t very good at breathing out of their mouth yet,” said Jonathan Skirko, MD, a craniofacial plastic surgeon and ear, nose and throat specialist at Banner – University Medical Center Tucson. “When their nose is stuffy, it can interfere with feeding and sleeping. And when it’s associated with rare conditions, it can even be dangerous.”
While the thought of pulling boogers out of anyone else’s nose makes many people gag, when it comes to their own little ones, parents roll up their sleeves and do what they have to do. It can be scary, especially if you’re cleaning your baby’s nose for the first time, but don’t worry.
Dr. Skirko shared the following tips and tricks for cleaning your little one’s nose.
Tips and tricks for clearing your baby’s or toddler’s nose:
1. Pump with a saline nasal spray
Most infants, babies and toddlers can have a lot of improvement with spraying saline (salt water) in their noses and letting them sneeze out the boogers.
2. Suck them out with a nasal aspirator
A nasal aspirator in combination with a saline spray can work well in getting all the gunk out.
The problem, however, is that there are a lot of products out there today, but only a few that work really well. And some that are a little bit much for some parents to stomach, such as devices where you suck out boogers with your mouth. Dr. Skirko suggests a newer product that has a pump and an ergonomic design called Dr. Noze Best. Instead of using your mouth, it uses battery-powered suction to clear nasal congestion in babies and children.
Although nasal aspirators can be effective, limit how often you use them “as they might cause swelling from the trauma,” Dr. Skirko said. “You can push up gently on the tip of your child’s nose and look in with a cellphone light for thick, crusty boogers. If present, suction can help. If not, suction doesn’t help swelling.”
3. Try a steam session
Steam can work wonders for babies and adults when they have nasal congestion. Try steaming up the bathroom with a hot shower and sitting with your baby or toddler for a few minutes. If it gets too hot or your baby is uncomfortable, get some fresh air.
4. Elevate the crib mattress
Place a folder towel under one end of the baby’s mattress to elevate their head while they sleep. The added height, even just an inch, may allow mucus to drain from their nose while they sleep. It may also help keep stomach acid in the tummy, so it doesn’t contribute to swelling.
(And remember: always put baby to sleep on their back and don’t put items in the crib!)
5. Run a cool humidifier
Dry air can lead to congestion, so running a humidifier in your child’s room may help add moisture into the air and relieve irritated, dry nasal passages.
6. Show them how (for toddlers)
As your baby ages into toddlerhood, they will be more developmentally ready to learn how to blow their nose with a little coaching and encouragement.
- Start by showing them how to sniff in and out with their mouth closed.
- Then try sniffing out while holding a tissue to their nose.
- Keep if fun. “For my youngest, he would blow his nose but only barely. So I told him to blow it harder like Hulk and that worked like a charm,” Dr. Skirko said.
- Patiently remind them to blow when they have boogers trickling out.
- Keep tissues nearby for easy access.
- If the outside of the nose is getting irritated, BoogyWipes or lotion tissues are sometimes helpful.
- Teach them how to properly dispose of tissues (so you don’t have them scattered everywhere) and how to wash their hands after. Washing their hands is the best way to keep their illness from spreading.
7. See their primary care provider
While little ones are snotty by nature, if you have concerns about your baby or toddler’s congestion or if they are showing any other signs of an illness, such as difficulty breathing, wheezing, fever or cough, contact their doctor.
Occasionally children may have severe congestion from a cold or sinus infection or it could be related to rare nasal abnormalities, asthmas or severe allergies, which may require a visit to a pediatric ear, nose and throat specialist or a pediatric pulmonologist.
To find a Banner Health specialist near you, visit bannerhealth.com.
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