Common causes of a blocked nose in babies

For adults, children and babies, a blocked nose may be caused by excess mucus that builds up in the nostrils. Mucus is produced by our body to help trap and remove things that shouldn’t be in the airways like dust and germs. For babies, many blocked noses are caused by illnesses in the upper airways such as the common cold. Yet besides a blocked nose, they may also experience a sore throat, cough, fever and sneezing when they have a cold. Another common cause of a baby blocked nose can be allergies. Sometimes it can be tricky to tell the difference between a cold and an allergy, so if you are unsure, see your doctor for help. There is also the possibility that a blocked nose is being caused by an object(s) lodged in one or both nostrils. If you suspect this is the case, seek medical advice immediately.

The link between allergies and a baby’s blocked nose

Let’s dig into allergies a little deeper. Allergies occur when the body reacts to allergens like pollen, dust mites, pet dander, fungal spores, or smoke. They are common in infants and children, in part because their immune systems are still developing. With allergies, your child may experience sneezing, have an itchy nose, mouth, and eyes as well as a runny or blocked nose. For ways to help relieve the symptoms of allergy, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.

How long will a blocked nose last?

The answer really depends on the cause. In the case of an illness like the common cold, symptoms may last for a week or more. An ongoing blocked nose in a baby can impact their breathing - potentially interrupting those precious sleep patterns! If you suspect your baby has a blocked nose for other reasons, or their blocked nose is ongoing or recurring, seeking medical advice is important.

How to relieve a baby's blocked nose

There are some options available to help manage a baby blocked nose, including:

  • gently cleaning baby’s nose
  • using saline drops or sprays and
  • using a nasal aspirator.

If allergies are a trigger, identifying any sources of allergens in the home and removing or limiting exposure is important. Regardless, remember to keep up regular feeds or fluids to help baby at least stay hydrated.

Removing excess mucus and using saline drops

One way to help a baby with a blocked nose is to gently wipe excess mucus away and apply saline drops to the nostrils. When wiping your baby’s blocked nose, be mindful that your baby’s skin is delicate. So take care to be gentle, and use a soft tissue or a cotton bud. Whilst saline solutions from a pharmacy can be effective, first speak to your doctor or pharmacist to see if they are appropriate for your baby’s blocked nose. Some people also find a nasal aspirator (a rubber suction bulb) useful to help remove some of the mucus from the nostrils too.

Addressing the environment

If a baby’s blocked nose is due to an allergy, then identifying and limiting exposure to the source of the allergen, especially in the home, is a good start. Things like grass, weed, tree pollens, dust mites, cat or dog dander and smoke are all things that can trigger a blocked nose in babies. So minimising these as much as possible through cleaning or removal may help.

Tips to help baby sleep with a blocked nose

Some general calming strategies may help your baby to sleep, such as ensuring they are at a comfortable temperature which may help them feel more relaxed. Another way to help your baby relax is occasional gentle slow body rocking. Try to also keep the usual routines with things like:

  • Sleep vs wake times
  • Pre-sleep associations like reading or lullabies
  • Taking your baby to where they usually sleep

Keep in mind that depending on the cause of their blocked nose, your baby may experience feeling generally unwell. So maintaining their usual routine might be tricky until they are feeling a little better.

Pre-bedtime blocked nose relief

How to incorporate pre-bedtime blocked nose relief strategies into the sleep routine? Consider starting with a gentle warm bath and removing any mucus with a nasal aspirator, cotton bud or soft tissue. A nasal aspirator may also help remove excess mucus, helping to make breathing a little easier.

The role of saline drops

Saline drops or a saline spray are another option available from pharmacies. The saline helps thin the mucus for easier removal from the nostrils. Before you try saline drops or sprays, it is very important to carefully read the pack instructions and follow any advice provided by a doctor or pharmacist.

When to seek professional help

When looking after a baby with a blocked nose, if their blocked nose is not getting better, or it’s getting worse, you should seek medical advice immediately. This also goes for any other symptoms they may be experiencing. You should also seek advice from your doctor if their blocked nose, or other symptoms, are concerning you for any reason.

When your baby has a blocked nose due to a cold, they may also experience other symptoms like pain or fever. In this case, your doctor may recommend paracetamol or ibuprofen which can be used for temporary relief of pain and/or fever.