How to suction an infant's nose with Amy Seery, MD

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How to Clear a Baby's Stuffy Nose

Five Methods:

A stuffy nose will make for a miserable baby who has difficulty eating and sleeping. And since babies don’t know how sneeze or blow their nose, you’ll have to use other methods to clear the mucus from their nasal passages, such as saline drops, nasal aspirators, or humidity.


Using Saline Drops or Spray

  1. Choose your type of saline.Nasal saline drops and sprays have both been shown to be effective in clearing mucus, reducing congestion, and improving breathing.The choice between drops or spray comes down to which your child tolerates better. The type of saline mixture that works best, on the other hand, depends on the nature of your baby’s stuffy nose:
    • Isotonic solutions have the same salt concentration as human blood and cells.They are better for children suffering from colds or allergies.You can purchase them, or to make your own, combine 1 cup of warm water with ½ a teaspoon of salt and a pinch of baking soda.
    • Hypertonic solutions have a higher concentration of salt than the average human blood and cells.They are better for children with chronic congestion.You can purchase them, or to make your own, combine 1 cup of warm water with 1.25 teaspoons of salt and ¼ teaspoon of baking soda.
    • Hypotonic solutions have a lower concentration of salt than human blood and cells. They usually aren't effective at reducing nasal symptoms.
  2. Wash your hands with soap and water.You will be touching both the saline and your child’s nose, and you don’t want to introduce any new germs.
    • Wash your hands with soap and water for about 20 seconds, or the time it takes to sing "Happy Birthday" twice.
    • If you can't wash your hands, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Hand-washing is always preferable, though.
  3. Position your baby.You can cradle your baby in your arm or place him or her on a flat surface. You will need to keep your child in this position for 5 minutes after delivering the drops, so make sure you're both comfortable.
  4. Deliver the saline solution.Hold your baby’s head back gently but firmly, as you may get some resistance. Place the tip of the dropper or spray just into your baby’s nostril, without actually touching the nose. If you are using a spray, spray once or twice into each nostril; if you are using drops, insert 3 drops into each nostril.
  5. Keep your baby horizontal for 5 minutes.This allows the drops to flow into the nasal passage. If your baby starts to cough, help him or her to sit up.
  6. Wipe away mucus.After you use the spray or drops, your baby may sneeze, releasing mucus. Sometimes, instead, the mucus simply runs out on its own. Either way, wipe it away with a soft cloth.
  7. Repeat if necessary.If nothing happens, repeat the process. The second application should produce some response and possible relief.
  8. Clean the tip of the saline dropper or spray.Be sure to rinse the tip with warm tap water to remove any germs.
  9. Limit use of saline to 4 times a day.Using saline too much can irritate your child’s nasal passages.

Method 1 Quiz

Which type of solution has a higher concentration of salt than the average human blood and cells?

Sucking Snot with a Nasal Aspirator

  1. Use an aspirator in conjunction with saline drops or spray.Using an aspirator with saline drops or spray has been shown to be more effective than saline solution or an aspirator alone.The saline drops or spray thins and loosens the mucus in the nose, which the aspirator can then more easily suck out.
  2. Choose your type of aspirator.All types of aspirators work, so choose the one that you feel most comfortable using and feel offers the best results.
    • Bulb aspirators, which are shaped like turnips, are frequently given to parents of newborns at the hospital and have been shown to be effective in improving breathing.
    • The NoseFrida (Snotsucker) and BabyComfyNose both have filtered tubes through which the parent can suck snot from their baby's nose. Though studies of these devices are limited, they do create greater suction than a bulb aspirator and appear to be at least equally effective at reducing congestion.
  3. Use saline drops or spray to loosen the mucus.Using the method elsewhere in this article, apply saline drops or spray to your baby’s nostrils. This will soften and loosen the mucus.
  4. Position your baby.You can hold your baby in your lap or put your baby down on a flat surface, facing up. Choose whichever position seems most comfortable.
  5. Use the aspirator to remove mucus from your baby’s nostrils.The method will depend on the type of aspirator.
    • Bulb Aspirator – Squeeze the bulb, then insert the tip about ¼ inch into the baby’s nostril, angling the tip to the side. Release the bulb to suck the mucus out of the nose and into the aspirator. Remove it from your baby's nose and empty the contents onto a tissue by squeezing the bulb repeatedly. Repeat on the other nostril.
    • NoseFrida or BabyComfy – Insert the tip of the device into the baby’s nostril and suck on the suction tube with steady pressure to remove snot. If using a BabyComfyNose, consider putting a tissue in the snot collection chamber to insure you do not suck up any snot. Remove the device from your baby’s and blow the contents onto a tissue. Repeat on the other nostril.
  6. Repeat if necessary.Use saline drops or spray before each use if the mucus is very thick.
  7. Clean your aspirator after use.Whether using a bulb aspirator, NoseFrida, or BabyComfy, be sure to clean it with hot, soapy water after use.
    • Bulb Aspirator – Put the tip in hot soapy water and squeeze to fill with soapy water. Shake, then squeeze the bulb to empty the syringe. Repeat this process with clean, hot water to clear out the soap.
    • NoseFrida or BabyComfy – Remove the suction tube and clean the tip of the device with hot, soapy water. Rinse with hot water to remove the soap.

Method 2 Quiz

Which type of aspirator is generally given to new parents at the hospital?

Loosening Mucus with Humidity

  1. Steam up the bathroom.Before putting your child to bed, run the shower to steam up your bathroom. Sit or stand with your baby in the steamy room for 5 minutes. The moist air will thin and loosen mucus, helping your child to breathe.Do not take your child into the shower, as the hot water may burn him or her.
  2. Moisten the air in your baby’s room with a humidifier.Always use a cool-mist humidifier. Hot or warm mist could cause burns.
    • Place the humidifier near your baby, and aim the mist away from the crib to avoid wetting the bedding.
    • Change the water daily and clean the unit with bleach or Lysol to prevent mold growth.
  3. Do not try steam inhalation from bowls of hot water.In the past, doctors sometimes recommended filling a bowl with hot water and letting your child inhale the steam, but studies show that this method leads to a high risk of burns. It is no longer recommended for children.
  4. Do not use a device that produces hot steam.Vaporizers are no longer recommended due to the danger of burns.For warm, wet air, take your child into a steamed up bathroom.

Method 3 Quiz

How can you safely loosen mucus with humidity?

Considering Other Methods: Sneezing, Raised Crib, and Vapor Rubs

  1. Get your baby to sneeze.Tickle the tip of your baby’s stopped up nostril with a piece of soft material like a tissue or string, or blow gently into one nostril. Be sure to have a tissue ready in case you are successful.
  2. Raise your child’s bed.Raising the head of your baby’s crib can help mucus to drain down their nasal passages. Place books or boards under the legs at the head of the crib to safely raise the bed. Never place a pillow in the crib with your child.
  3. Do not use vapor rubs for children under 2.The menthol, camphorated oil, and eucalyptus oil found in vapor rubs are all potentially life threatening for babies if swallowed,inhaled,or applied to the skin.

Method 4 Quiz

True or False: Eucalyptus oil and the other compounds found in vapor rubs are effective natural relief for infants.

Seeking Medical Treatment

  1. Call your doctor.In babies over 3 months of age, call your doctor if your congested child has any of the following symptoms with a stuffy nose, which could indicate the presence of a cold or other infection:
    • A temperature over 100.4 degrees F (38 degrees C).
    • Reduced urine output
    • Ear pain or unusual irritability
    • Red eyes, or greenish or yellow eye discharge
    • Swelling of the forehead, eyes, side of the nose, or cheek
    • Persistent cough
    • Trouble breathing
    • White or yellow spots on his or her throat
    • Nasal discharge that had a foul smell or is a color other than white or yellow
    • A cough that produces mucus or lasts longer than 10 days
    • Symptoms that last more than 3 weeks
  2. Call the doctor immediately if your baby is under 3 months of age.If your infant is under 3 months old, call your pediatrician as soon as you see signs of a cold. A cold in babies can quickly develop into something more serious, and it interferes with their ability to drink milk, leading to potential dehydration.
  3. Call emergency services if necessary.In some cases, a cold or other infection can turn worse rapidly. If you see any of the following symptoms, call emergency services or seek immediate medical attention:
    • Your baby coughs hard enough to make him vomit
    • You see changes in your baby's skin color
    • Your baby coughs up blood
    • Your baby has trouble breathing
    • Your baby turns blue around the lips and mouth

Method 5 Quiz

When should you call your doctor?

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  • Do not introduce any foreign body into your baby's nose if s/he has had recent trauma or has birth defects or deformities without first consulting your pediatrician.
  • Use care when using an aspirator so as not to damage your baby's delicate nasal cavity.

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