Congestion is the term used in describing the blockage caused to the air passages of the nose. It is usually associated with thick or thin nasal secretions coming through the nose which is often referred to as runny nose.
Although many people think that the congestion is mainly due to the increased amounts of secretions or mucus within the nasal passages, it is not so. The main reason for blocked or congested nose is the swelling of its lining mucosa. Apparently, the swelling seen in such instances are due to increase blood supply to that area which is a response to a local irritation.
The nasal congestion of an infant can result from many causes. Even though it is very difficult to prevent such occurrences, we can minimize the frequency of such events if we are aware about the causes. Following are some of the trigger factors for nasal congestion.
Dry air Chemical irritants such as exposure to paint or detergents Pollens Dust Allergens Infections Foreign bodies Overuse of decongestion medications (Rebound congestion)
The nasal mucosa of an infant will be very sensitive and will have little mechanical protection against the invading foreign agents. In most instances, when the nasal surface gets in contact with such agent it will release certain chemicals, mainly histamine, as a response. These will indicate to the body that the foreign insult needs to be neutralized and the bodies’ response would be to increase the circulation to that particular area. The released chemicals will also act on the blood vessels and will make them dilated to accommodate such high blood flows. The result will be the swelling of the lining mucosa and therefore congestion.
Parallel to this process, the glands in the mucosa will secrete large amounts of mucus and this will facilitate further congestion as well as runny nose.
The mechanism would be different when the infant gets in contact with dry air, as it would dry up the mucus in the nasal passages. The resulting noisy breathing can sometimes be misinterpreted as a nasal congestion but it’s actually caused due to tiny nasal passages.
When considering all these mechanisms of nasal congestion, following suggestions can be made to relieve this symptom.
If the baby shown signs of fever, cough, difficulty in breathing, poor feeding and other signs of an infection, you should seek medical advise in treating the underlying condition. If there is a nasal discharge, often unilateral and would be greenish or purulent with a bad odor, it could well be a foreign body and you should seek medical advice in relieving the obstruction. You should not attempt to remove the foreign body yourself. In most instances, normal saline nose drops will help in relieving the symptoms for a short while. As it does not possess any side effects, it would be a safe alternative for medications that is used for decongestion purpose. Nasal decongesting medications can also be used but it’s always a good idea to seek advice from your pediatrician before making use of them. Relieving the dryness in the inhaled air could also be useful, especially in the winter season. A vaporizer can be used which allows added water to be used as a humidifying agent. Use of an infant nasal aspirator will be useful when there are high amount of mucus being produced. If there is thick mucus in the nose, adding 1-2 drops of normal saline would make it thin and will allow you to aspirate.
Most nasal congestions would not last for more than 3 days and even the infections would settle within 1 – 2 weeks.