How to Help Your Baby or Toddler Clear a Stuffy Nose

Mucus removal tips from a pediatrician

When your child’s too young to blow his or her nose, the job of getting out excess mucus from allergies or illness falls to you. (Lucky you!)

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So it’s time to — ahem —  suck it up and become a mucus removal expert. It’s not a pretty process, but a job well done will help your child breathe easier and get better rest — and that’s worth it for the whole family.

What’s the best method for clearing your child’s nose? It depends on the child’s age, says pediatrician Amy Sniderman, MD.

Here she shares her best snot-removal solutions and throws in a tip to help your child learn how to blow his or her own nose.

How to clear a baby’s stuffy nose

A nose that’s clogged with mucus can make it hard for babies to breathe and eat properly — especially for young babies who breastfeed or eat from a bottle, Dr. Sniderman says.

Keeping excess mucus in check can also ward off skin infections caused by leaking mucus around the child’s nose.

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The best way to remove it is with a suction device like a nasal aspirator or Swedish snot sucker, Dr. Sniderman says. With a nasal aspirator, you create the suction by squeezing the bulb and then putting it gently in your child’s nose and releasing it. With a Swedish snot sucker, you create the suction with your mouth — but a long, thin tube with a membrane over it stands between you and the larger vial that goes in the nose. You and your baby may not love the process, but it works.

How to help a toddler blow his or her nose

In young toddlers, a nasal aspirator or Swedish snot sucker is still your best bet for removing excess mucus, Dr. Sniderman says. But with a little coaching, you can help your older toddler get the hang of blowing his or her own nose.

Just hold a tissue over your child’s nose and tell her to close her mouth and pretend to blow out birthday candles or blow bubbles with her nose, she says. It might take a few tries for your child to understand the concept, so keep practicing. And don’t despair if he or she doesn’t catch on right away — it takes some kids longer to learn.

“Some 2-year-olds can blow their nose, but some kids are much older before they can do it,” Dr. Sniderman says. “It’s kind of a coordination thing — they have to be able to close their mouth and blow out their nose.”

Thin out mucus with saline drops and humidifiers

Regardless of your child’s age, if mucus is too thick to remove, Dr. Sniderman suggests using a few drops of over-the-counter saline nasal spray to help thin it out.

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humidifier can also help make mucus removal easier.

Don’t forget to wash up

Whether you’re still at the snot-sucker stage or your child is learning to blow his or her own nose, remember to wash your hands (and remind your child to wash his or hers) afterward — and frequently, in general.

Washing your hands is the best way to keep an illness from spreading, Dr. Sniderman says.

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