Nasal congestion can be quite distressing for infants. Regardless of the reason, whether from an infection, allergy or even normal mucous production, stuffiness can affect breathing, sleeping and eating. Although it may be tempting to provide relief with over-the-counter decongestive medicines, these should never be given to infants. Cough and cold medications are considered unsafe for children under two. Fortunately, there are safe and effective alternatives for alleviating troublesome stuffiness in infants.
First of all, unless the nasal congestion is causing excessive physical distress, the best thing to do is to let the nose clear on its own. Elevating the baby’s head with a rolled up towel or store bought baby wedge will make it easier for a congested infant to breathe while sleeping. During waking hours, holding and comforting a baby while periodically wiping the nose with a soft tissue, as simple as it sounds, is a reasonable approach.
On the other hand, when nasal congestion does excessively interfere with breathing, eating or sleeping, suctioning the nose with a bulb syringe and saline can be very helpful. Some babies will find this process temporarily unpleasant, but it will work for providing immediate relief. Inserting a drop or two of saline into each nostril before using the syringe will help to loosen up the mucus for easier suctioning. This method is particularly useful for infants younger than 6 months.
Syringes, however, should be used sparingly and, as mentioned, only when the stuffiness is causing excessive upset. Overdoing it could end up irritating the delicate tissues of the nasal passageway, which will only exacerbate a baby’s discomfort.
For older babies, the use of a bulb syringe usually is not necessary. Saline drops, without manual suctioning, should be sufficient for relieving stuffiness in babies older than 6 months. Regardless of age, make sure to hold the baby in a reclined position while inserting the drops. This will ensure the saline adequately coats the mucous membranes. Once inserted, bring the baby back up into a sitting position and let nature take its course.
For a natural decongestive effect, vaporizers and cool mist humidifiers placed near a sleeping baby can be of great benefit. These devices keep the air moist, either through warm steam or cool mist. The humidity created then works to keep mucus flowing, which enables a baby to breathe and sleep better during the night.
Menthol and eucalyptus essential oil can also alleviate congestion. They are considered both an expectorant and a decongestant and are well-known for clearing the nasal passage and sinuses. Creating eucalyptus and menthol vapors can help a badly congested infant breathe better. Make sure the vapors you create are not too strong and watch for any adverse reaction. There is a slight chance a baby exposed to these vapors will have an allergic reaction.
These vapors can be created by using a commercial vaporizer machine. It is also possible to produce a decongestive vapor by simply adding several drops of the essential oil to some boiling water to create a steam. Petroleum based eucalyptus and menthol vapor rubs applied to the chest, soles of the feet, back or around the nostrils can also be quite effective.
One last suggestion is a good old fashioned steam. This is a classic treatment for croup and helps with basic nasal congestion as well. Run a hot shower to create steam, and then either bathe or sit with the congested infant in the steamy bathroom for 10 or 15 minutes.
Finally, unless the runny nose does not seem to go away, or it sounds like the congestion has moved into the chest with the development of a cough, most congested infants will be just fine.