Breathing issues and blocked noses are terribly distressing for babies (and parents).
Prof. Alf Nicholson offers some insight and solutions.
Babies breathe through their noses so nasal congestion can be incredibly distressing for them.
This will affect sleep and feeding patterns can become unsettled and erratic, which leads to more upset. It’s a tiring and frustrating circle for all concerned.
Why do babies get blocked noses?
Stuffy noses or nasal congestion occurs when the tissues inside the nose become swollen or produce mucus.
As they were surrounded by fluid in the womb, many newborns have stuffy noses, and they will often sneeze for a couple of days as they try to get rid of the leftover fluid. This is completely normal.
Dry air, irritants such as dust, cigarette smoke and perfumes, allergies and infections can also be the culprit of a blocked, irritated nose.
How to soothe an irritated nose?
Here are some things you can try to help ease the congestion:
● Infant nasal saline spray will help to clear the nose and soften any dry or thick mucus, so that it is easily removed. Often babies will clear their nose by sneezing and coughing, so be sure to have a tissue to hand.
● When you lie your baby down to sleep, raise the head of the Moses basket or cot by placing a thick book under its feet. You don’t want to pop the books under the mattress as this will cause the mattress to buckle and be uneven. It is important to keep your baby’s back nice and straight while sleeping to protect your baby’s spine development.
● Steam therapy is also very popular, especially in the evening before a bath. Close the bathroom door and run the hot water tap or shower for a few minutes to create a steam room effect. Just ensure your baby’s clothes are nice and dry before you put him to bed. As your baby is still young, the use of oils is not encouraged unless suggested by a GP.
Could it be hay fever?
Hay fever (allergic rhinitis) is an allergic reaction around the nose and eyelids. Your child will have two or more of these symptoms:
They will be clear for months, and then it comes back.
This is because the allergy is usually to tree pollens in early spring, and grass pollens in late spring and early summer.
It will be an inhaled problem and in some cases it can be a reaction to house dust mites or animal dander. The timing is very relevant.
When he is exposed to the allergen, symptoms will start quickly – in minutes – and last for hours.
What are the treatments for hay fever?
Reactions to treatment will vary, depending on the child, but most can find some relief.
When pollen counts are high, keep windows closed and limit his time outdoors if he has hay fever. Avoid contact with pollen if you can.
That means avoiding compost piles, hay, mown grass, raked leaves, or any pollinating plants. Daily baths may help.
If dander or house mites are the trigger, try to minimise exposure. The key is ventilation.
Open your windows and install trickle vents if you have double glazing.
Do not have carpets or rugs in the bedroom and use special dust-proof covers on the mattress and pillows.
Wash bedding, mattress covers and soft toys weekly at a high temperature (at least 54 degrees is needed to kill the mites) and dry on a hot cycle.
Try antihistamines first. They are good at tackling all the sneezing and itching and will help the eye problems too.
The newer ones should not make your child drowsy. If his nose is blocked, a nasal decongestant will help (it reduces blood supply to the nose). It can be used with antihistamines.
Salt water sprays and saline drops may help to relieve symptoms.
Butterbur is sometimes used as a natural alternative to antihistamines, but children should only use it under medical supervision.
Nasal steroids work best, but are expensive, slow to act and the effects are short lived. They do not help itching, so he may also need antihistamines.
If nothing works, you could consider immunotherapy, which has had some success. But you must start treatment before the pollen season begins and ideally continue using it for three years.
Is it sinusitis?
This is sometimes confused with hay fever, so it is worth clearing things up a little.
Sinusitis is inflammation of the sinuses (the air-filled tubes around the nose) caused by an infection.
It starts like a cold, but his nose will stream for days on end – even up to a month.
When it is bad, your child will usually have:
1 A temperature and a headache.
2 A stuffed nose, but constantly dripping mucus that is thick and yellowish.
3 Coughing during the day (but no wheeze).
4 Some swelling around his face or eyelids.
5 Loss of smell and taste.
What are the treatments for sinusitis?
Antibiotics are needed as sinusitis is a bacterial infection; decongestants will not be very useful for the blocked nose, but steam can help to clear it.
Try inhaling steam under a towel, or sit him in the bathroom with the hot taps on – but be careful with hot water.
Saline drops or spray are a good idea for the first few days, to clean the nasal passges. You can also give him paracetamol (be sure to follow the correct dosage guidelines for his age on the pack) to relieve any pain or temperature.
Taken from “When Your Child is Sick” by Professor Alf Nicholson and Grainne O’Malley (2nd Edition, Gill Books), available from all good book shops at €24.99.
The information is not intended as a substitute for your own doctor.
About the product
Sterimar clears and unblocks little noses
A range of specially designed solutions – to clear and unblock little noses and keep them in top working condition.
Recommended by doctors, mums and winner of several awards, Sterimar Baby is a 100% natural purified sea water based nasal spray that gently cleans and clears little noses.
The gentle micro diffusion spray disperses the solution into very fine droplets coating the inside of the nasal passages to ease congestion and provide cold defence.
The nozzle fits safely and comfortably inside your baby’s nose and will continue to work at any angle to ensure an easy and stress free application every time.
Sterimar Baby contains no preservatives or additives making it the ideal solution to use from birth.
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Available nationwide from your local pharmacy.
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