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Stuffy Nose – Babies (6-24 months)

Baby nasal congestion or baby “stuffy nose” is typically caused by anything that inflames the nasal tissues – usually a cold, influenza, sinusitis, or allergies. Overall, baby congestion is just extremely annoying and nothing to worry about, but it can really affect sleep and eating habits. Special shoutout to our newborns with a stuffy nose – tough to breastfeed or suck down a bottle when your nose is completely plugged! Newborn or infant congestion can be more worrisome than it is with our older kiddos, so let’s figure out what to do with our infant’s stuffy nose!

What causes our baby’s stuffy nose?

As stated above, when we have a cold or something similar, our noses get inflamed. The tissues and blood vessels inside your nose become swollen with extra fluid and it creates that very “full” or “stuffy” feeling. With our little babes, their noses are so tiny! So a little inflammation for us is very different compared to their tiny baby congested nose. And does it seem like your baby is more congested at night? This isn’t just to spite you poor, hard working parents! Our bodies react differently to allergens at night and as much as we need gravity, it is not helpful when it comes to a baby’s stuffy nose at night. Mucus builds up and has nowhere to go.

You know what’s really common beginning at 6 months of age? The common cold. You know what else? Teething. Great, I know. Another mystery of wondering what ailment your little one is dealing with. So, do babies get stuffy noses while they’re teething? Usually not. Teething can sometimes be related to a runny nose due to inflammation of the mouth and gums, but if what you’re seeing in your infant is nasal congestion, it’s likely the common cold. The good news is that neither of these are cause for alarm or a reason to see the pediatrician, unless other symptoms arise that we’ll discuss shortly.

Our babies can have a stuffy nose with no other symptoms but often times, our baby’s stuffy nose can come with other symptoms.

  • Runny nose (yep, we often get both!)
  • Fever
  • Irritability or fussiness
  • Sleeplessness
  • Coughing (possibly worse at night)
  • Sneezing
  • Decreased appetite or difficulty eating due to a stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Watery eyes
  • Vomiting or spitting up

What symptoms are concerning? When should we call the doctor?

  • If your babe is under 4 months old, chat with the doctor sooner than later. Things progress quickly in our little guys, better safe than sorry!
  • If symptoms are lasting longer than 10 days.
  • Sinus pain along with symptoms. Our tiny babes won’t be able to tell us this, so you’ll have to use your Mommy Radar to  determine if they’re having head/sinus pain that doesn’t feel normal to you.
  • Ear pain. The build-up from stuffy noses puts our babes at risk for ear infection, so if they appear to be grabbing or pawing at that ear while they are more fussy than usual, call the doc.
  • Signs of dehydration (dry mouth, not as many wet diapers)
  • Yellow or green “goop”/discharge from their eyes.
  • Sometimes our babes spit up or throw up because of mucus draining down their throat or excessive crying. This can be normal. If it is ever blood-tinged or you feel like it’s from something else (feeding intolerance, GI bug, etc), call your doctor.
  • If you’re ever concerned it is not related to a cold or virus, ask your doctor. Maybe it’s allergy related or something else more serious. Follow your gut!
  • Anytime your babe is wheezing or has trouble breathing – go to the ER.
  • Fever, depending on age:
  • 0-4 months: >100.4 F
  • 4-24 months: >102 F
  • 2 yrs+: >103 F

There’s also a myth that green or yellow drainage means we’ve got a bacterial infection and need antibiotics. This CAN be true but not always. One trick: does it START green or yellow right outta the gate? This could be a sign of a bacterial infection. But if it starts clear and changes to thick and colorful, it’s likely a virus that your kiddo’s body is fighting off. High five, Body!

What can we do to help our baby’s stuffy nose?

  • Increase fluids! This is the most important thing you can do, as it thins out the mucus and helps us get it OUT!
  • Saline drops or rinses. This also helps thin everything out. You can then use a suction bulb to clear their tiny nose. A few times a day is plenty for suctioning; we don’t want to cause extra irritation to the nasal passage.
  • Cool-mist humidifiers. Another way to moisten the mucus is by moistening the air!
  • Put skin protective ointment (such as Aquaphor) around their nostrils to help with breakdown or chapping. A very thin layer and I’d like to emphasize – not IN the nose.
  • Wash your hands every time you help your love with their germs. And you can wash their little hands, too!
  • Ibuprofen or Tylenol for discomfort. Baby congestion medicines such as over-the-counter cough and cold are not recommended in our kiddos. Focus on baby congestion remedies instead!

It’s never fun to watch when your little love is miserable. And then you add boogies and less sleep to the mix and it leaves you praying for healthier days. You’ll get there! Trust your instincts and if everything feels okay (albeit uncomfortable), let this run its course. And don’t leave the house without kleenexes, you’re gonna need ‘em!

Blake Wageman

Blake Wageman, RN, BSN has over 11 years of nursing under her belt, primarily focused on NICU babies and, just as importantly, their worried parents.