5 Common Causes of Infant Congestion

June 19, 2017

No matter your age, a stuffy nose is no fun. Check out these 5 causes of infant congestion, and how you help your little one feel better -- stat.

Babies are often stuffed up and congested, but when is a baby stuffy nose something to worry about? Knowing what causes infant congestion and learning some ways to ease your baby's suffering can take a lot of the worry away.

infant congestion

Here are five common causes of infant congestion and what you can do to help your baby breathe easier.

  1. Anatomy
    "Congestion in babies is caused either by swelling of the nasal passages, so air can't get through, or by the nasal passages being filled up with mucus," says Dr. Roy Benaroch, a pediatrician and author of "Solving Health and Behavioral Problems from Birth through Preschool." "Infant noses are so small to begin with, so even a little swelling or mucus can cause congestion." Kristina Duda, a registered nurse and the cold and flu expert at About.com, agrees. "Sometimes babies just sound congested, when there really isn't anything to worry about," she says. For typical congestion caused solely by infant anatomy, Duda says, "Keeping babies noses clear with a bulb syringe can be a good idea. If your baby is eating okay, and doesn't seem to be too bothered by their congestion, then there shouldn't be too much to worry about."
  2. Poor Nose Blowing Skills
    Benaroch says, "Older children and adults can easily clear mucus out of their noses by blowing them. Little babies can't do that, so they tend to stay congested." To clear out baby noses safely and easily, both Benaroch and Duda suggest the NoseFrida baby nostril aspirator because it works well and is safe to use for babies. Generally, it does the same thing as a bulb syringe by clearing out the mucus in their noses, but it's easier to clean than typical syringes. Parents suck the mucus out of their babies' noses using the nostril aspirator, but don't get grossed out -- there is a filter that blocks the mucus from reaching your mouth.
  3. Irritations
    Air quality is important and can really wreak havoc on a baby stuffy nose. "Irritants like warm dry air, tobacco or cooking smoke or other environmental irritants in the air can cause baby congestion," says Benaroch. Duda suggests that parents eliminate any environmental factors and "invest in a cool mist humidifier for baby's room."
  4. Common Cold Virus
    "Most of the time baby congestion isn't really painful for them, but it can affect their sleeping, especially if they get the common cold virus," says Duda. If your baby is really congested, she suggests elevating your baby's head while he sleeps. "Putting them in their baby car seat, or even swing, so they are in an upright, elevated position can help drain some of that mucus." Still have a baby stuffy nose on your hands? "Try saline drops for babies' noses that help clear out some of that mucus as well," suggests Duda.
  5. RSV
    Sometimes a stuffy nose can mean something more than infant congestion. Know these clear warning signs, says Duda: "If babies are more irritable than normal, they just are not feeding very well, they are lethargic, they don't want to smile and play as usual or they are sleeping more than normal -- these kinds of signs could signal a more serious illness such as RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus in babies." RSV is one of the most common causes of respiratory illnesses in babies and is signaled by a lot of mucus that doesn't go away. "RSV seems to be more common in premature infants so parents should be aware of that. It occurs when the common cold virus starts to attack their lungs, and needs medical intervention to treat," Duda explains.

Sometimes, infant congestion can impair your baby's breathing, which Duda says is a clear signal to take your little one to the doctor -- no matter the cause. "If babies are coughing a lot and there is no relief, then they should really be seen by a doctor. Something more serious to watch out for is nasal flaring. If babies' nostrils are flaring in and out every time they breathe, and they have retraction around the ribs, this means that they are working too hard to breathe and need immediate medical attention. If they are grunting with every breath, this is also a serious concern, and parents should seek out immediate medical attention for their babies." If you're ever concerned about your baby's breathing, a check with your pediatrician is called for.

For more on your baby's health, check out The Sick Baby Survival Guide.

Amy Aitman is a freelance writer, 8menwriting.com, and also a mommyblogger, mommypatter.com.

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