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Blocked nose in babies

Snuffles and sniffles

It is common for babies aged under 6 months to have a blocked nose (commonly called 'snuffles'). It is usually due to normal mucus that collects in the nose, which is difficult for the baby to clear. No treatment is required if the baby is otherwise well and feeding well.

Continue reading below

What causes snuffles?

Baby snuffles are usually due to the normal mucus that may collect in a baby's nose. Snuffles are not caused by colds or infections - although an infection can make things worse. Snuffles can be common in newborns. Babies have to breathe through their nose and they cannot make themselves sneeze or blow their nose to clear it.

A baby who just has snuffles will be otherwise well, but may snort when breathing. If the snuffles are part of an illness, you will notice other symptoms. For example, they might cough, or have difficulty sleeping.

However, feeding can sometimes become difficult if the baby cannot breathe very well through his or her nose. They may need to have more feeds during the day but each feed will be shorter.

What can I do when my baby has snuffles?

General measures

Nothing needs to be done if the baby is happy and able to feed. However, the following may help if feeding becomes difficult:

  • You can try to make your baby sneeze by stroking the inside of their nostril with cotton wool.

  • Try placing a bowl of warm water in the room where the baby sleeps. This raises the humidity which may help to loosen thick mucus.

  • Make the baby's room steamy for a while. Try sitting in a steamy atmosphere with your baby before a feed. For example, run the hot shower in the bathroom and shut the door. Sit in the room, but not in the shower, with your baby for five minutes before feeding.

  • Try giving smaller but more frequent feeds.

Salt water nose drops

Salt water (saline) drops or sprays may be useful if the above measures do not help. Saline drops thin the mucus and so make it easier for the baby to clear the mucus from the nose. (Saline seems to work better than just plain water.) You can buy saline drops from a pharmacist who can also advise on how to use them.

Only use the drops just before feeds, and only if the nose is blocked. If saline is used too often, the skin around the nose may become a little sore.

Advice from a health visitor or doctor

Most babies with snuffles come to no harm and feed well. In some cases babies with snuffles feed more slowly and with some difficulty. If you are concerned that feeding is a problem, see your health visitor or doctor.

Nasal aspirators

Nasal aspirators are devices which allow you to suck the mucus from your baby's nose. They come in various shapes and sizes. Some are bulb syringes, some come with a tube so you can suck at the other end and some are electrically powered. It is not possible to give any advice on whether to use a nasal aspirator or not, or which one to use. There are few research trials on nasal aspirators but those that there are suggest they are safe and effective. Some parents buy one to suck mucus from the baby's nostrils before feeds. They are advertised on some websites or can be bought in some pharmacies.

Further reading and references

  • Chirico G, Beccagutti F; Nasal obstruction in neonates and infants. Minerva Pediatr. 2010 Oct;62(5):499-505.
  • Chirico G, Quartarone G, Mallefet P; Nasal congestion in infants and children: a literature review on efficacy and safety of non-pharmacological treatments. Minerva Pediatr. 2014 Dec;66(6):549-57.
  • de Gabory L, Kerimian M, Sagardoy T, et al; Paediatric nasal irrigation: The "fencing" method. Eur Ann Otorhinolaryngol Head Neck Dis. 2021 Mar;138(2):107-113. doi: 10.1016/j.anorl.2020.08.004. Epub 2020 Sep 3.

Article history

The information on this page is written and peer reviewed by qualified clinicians.

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