How to unblock baby nose naturally?
There are many different ways to clear a stuffy nose, whether it’s for yourself or your baby.
Depending on the advice of the professionals you consult and the current trends, you may be recommended to use a baby nasal aspirator, saline nasal drops, a nasal bulb syringe, a seawater spray, and so on.
Parents are often a bit lost when it comes to all these solutions for cleaning their child’s nose, and they want to choose the best option available.
Some parents are not comfortable using a baby nasal aspirator and prefer to explore other techniques.
In this article, I provide an overview of what we currently know about the effectiveness of various methods for clearing an infant, baby, toddler, or child’s stuffy nose.
I also introduce the different types of equipment needed for each method and the easiest ways to obtain them at the best prices (at a supermarket, pharmacy, or online).
Ultimately, what matters most is finding the method with which you are most comfortable.
I address all the questions that parents of young children often ask me about how to effectively clear their baby’s or child’s nose (I am a physical therapist… and mother of 2! 👦👧).
You can also ask your own questions in the comments 🙂.
Last update: October 2023
Disclaimer: Affiliate links. Complete disclosure in legal notices. Written by Nelly Darbois, physical therapist and scientific writer
Why is baby nasal clearing emphasized so much?
Babies and young children more frequently experience nasal congestion compared to adults. Nasal congestion is the medical term for a “blocked nose,” which is typically caused by a common cold lasting on average 4 to 14 days.
However, a baby or young child can have a series of colds and suffer from a congested nose for weeks.
A baby with nasal congestion has a harder time breathing through their nose. This can interfere with their ability to eat, particularly when breastfeeding or bottle-feeding (as they need to breathe through their nose during feeding).
It can also disrupt their sleep and make them fussier and less comfortable.
Therefore, it is recommended to clear the nasal passages of congested babies and young children. The goal of nasal clearing is not to cure the cold more quickly but to facilitate feeding, hydration, and the baby’s comfort.
Most of the time, a child is not capable of intentionally blowing their nose until around 18 months of age (or even 4 or 5 years for some). Therefore, other techniques are used to try to remove secretions from the nasal passages.
Some people suggest clearing the nose of babies throughout the year (or at least during the winter) as a preventive measure against infections.
While this is theoretically consistent, there are no studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of nasal clearing in preventing the development of sinusitis, rhinopharyngitis, or similar conditions.
The main side effect of various nasal washing techniques is that they can sometimes cause nosebleeds (epistaxis).
Nasal clearing is primarily useful for improving the child’s comfort (aside from the brief moment of clearing itself).
What are the alternatives to a baby nasal aspirator?
The baby nasal aspirator (or nasal vacuum) is often provided in maternity kits to facilitate nasal clearing for infants. Some parents may be hesitant to use it or find it challenging.
There are alternatives for clearing the nose of a child who is not yet capable of voluntarily blowing their nose. I will explain them one by one.
💡 Most of these solutions require the use of saline solution (physiological saline).
This is sterile water to which sodium chloride has been added. It is also possible to make your own saline solution using tap water (boiled for 10 minutes) and table salt (9g per 1L).
However, it is important to ensure the cleanliness or sterilization of the utensils and containers used.
Technique 1: How to clear your baby or child’s nose with a syringe?
With this technique, you clean the nose with a larger volume of saline solution. This is sometimes referred to as high-volume nasal irrigation (similar to using the bulb syringe we will see later).
You will need:
- Saline solution in a bottle or container.
- A plastic syringe of 5 to 10 mL. This is, of course, a syringe without a needle, but rather a simple wide plastic tip, like the syringes found in children’s doctor playsets.
- Tissues or toilet paper.
- Optionally, a large towel.
Here’s a step-by-step guide with your baby aged 4 to 18 months.
- Sit the baby on your lap with a towel wrapped around them (to prevent them from getting soaked with saline solution).
- Gently tilt their head to the right and downward. Then, insert saline solution into their left nostril using the syringe.
- Proceed in the same way for the right nostril, with the head turned to the left.
- The liquid and secretions should come out from the other nostril (right if you applied the solution on the left, and vice versa).
Don’t worry if the liquid comes out from the same side or if it hardly comes out at all (in this case, the child will swallow it, which is not a problem, as it’s safe to ingest). With repetition, you’ll become more skilled at it.
For children aged 1 to 3 years, you can do this with the child standing in front of a sink at their height.
Minimum age: around 4 months, when your baby has enough muscle tone to sit relatively upright with their back against you, well supported, without needing to hold their head.
Some people also suggest using syringes for even younger babies while they are lying down.
Personally, I don’t practice this; I prefer single-use pipettes for very young babies.
No maximum age.
⚠️ Contraindication: This technique is not recommended for babies or children who have ear infections or a history of frequent ear infections, due to the forceful flow.
You can find syringes and saline solution in bottles at pharmacies, medical supply stores, or online (see below).
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Technique 2: How to Clear Your Baby’s or Child’s Nose with Saline Droppers?
This is one of the techniques you can use from your baby’s birth. You simply need single-dose saline droppers and tissues.
The various steps:
- Lay your baby on their back, for example, on the changing table. Turn their entire body (or just their head, whichever you are more comfortable with) to the side, for example, the left side (see photo).
- Insert saline solution into the upper nostril (right if the head is turned to the left).
- Gently block the nostril into which you have applied the saline to facilitate the flow of saline solution into the various nasal passages.
- It’s normal for your baby to squirm, and you may need to hold them quite firmly to avoid any harm. The procedure is not painful, but the sensation of having saline in the nose is not very pleasant (you’ve probably experienced it yourself). Some people find it more comfortable to wrap their baby in a large towel to limit their movements rather than using their arms or body to restrain them.
- Repeat the same process on the other side.
- Half a dose per nostril is often sufficient most of the time.
For older children, around 1 to 2 and a half years old, this can be done while standing or sitting.
Minimum Age: From birth (excluding premature babies). No maximum age.
Saline droppers can be found everywhere: supermarkets, pharmacies, medical supply stores, and online. See below for an example:
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Technique 3. How to Clear Your Child’s Nose with a Nasal Spray?
This technique is also known as ‘saline solution spraying.’
It requires having a nasal spray suitable for your child’s age.
You can easily find them at pharmacies or online, less commonly in supermarkets. It should be a nasal spray containing only saline solution and not medication (unless otherwise specified).”
Technique 4: How to Clear Your Child’s Nose with a Rhino Horn Junior?
Rhino Horn is a brand and the name of a device that resembles an Aladdin lamp. This device is also known as a ‘neti pot,’ ‘nasal rinse pot,’ ‘nose cleansing horn,’ and sometimes ‘nasal yoga pot.’
You fill it with saline solution and then empty the lamp into one nostril and then the other.
Tilting your head forward and to the right when adding water to the left nostril and vice versa. Typically, you stand in front of a sink.
Therefore, you use a very large volume of saline solution. This is referred to as high-volume nasal irrigation.
This technique can be used with a cooperative child aged 2/3 and older, not with a newborn, of course
Technique 5: Clearing Your Baby/Child’s Nose with a Simple Tissue?
Voluntarily blowing through the nose is not something we know how to do from birth. This skill is acquired in the early years of life.
And, as with any skill acquisition, there are significant differences among children, whether or not they have a disability.
I have seen children under one year old who had already figured out how to blow their nose ‘like an adult,’ even managing to hold the tissue themselves!
And I’ve seen 6-year-old children (or older), without disabilities, who still haven’t quite grasped how to do it properly, even though they’ve been properly explained dozens and dozens of times.
Clearing your child’s nose without using saline solution, simply by asking them to blow through their nose, is sometimes possible. It really depends on the child, their age, and your personal preferences.
Summary Table of Different Techniques for Clearing a Child’s Nose
Finally, here’s a comparative table of the different techniques for clearing the noses of babies and children!
|Manual or electronic nasal aspirator (+ saline solution)||Birth||Some parents find this device more effective|
May be insufficient depending on the degree and type of congestion
|Requires getting the hang of it|
|Bulb syringe (+ saline solution)||Approximately 4 months||Otitis||Some parents find this device more effective||Requires getting the hang of it|
|Saline droppers||Birth||The droppers are single-use, so always sterile|
Plastic tips that small children can put in their mouths
Requires getting the hang of it
|Single-dose droppers need frequent replacement|
|Nasal spray (without active ingredients other than saline solution)||Birth||The product lasts longer than droppers||Requires getting the hang of it|
|Rhino Horn (+ saline solution)||Approximately 4 years||Otitis||Infinitely reusable|
Not suitable for very young children
|Requires getting the hang of it|
|Simple tissues||Approximately 18 months||No equipment||Technically the simplest|
Not possible for very young children
Remember that there is no technique that clearly has a consensus. Prioritize the one you feel most comfortable with, or the one your child prefers (or dislikes the least 😉), when they are old enough to express their opinion!
Some children ‘enjoy’ these nasal cleaning techniques and even spontaneously request nasal rinsing at around 2/3 years of age or later. Others, on the other hand, will always dislike them.
The question then arises of whether to continue ‘bothering’ them, given the uncertainty of the effectiveness of these techniques for prevention or treatment.
What are the most effective nasal cleaning techniques?
There are no well-conducted studies comparing the effectiveness of one nasal cleaning technique to another for treating or preventing rhinopharyngitis or any other condition.
In my opinion, the most important thing is to find a nasal cleaning technique with which you are confident and comfortable. And one that allows your child to breathe better through the nose and feed or eat after being cleared.
There’s no need to feel guilty if you feel totally ineffective in your actions. And if your child is even more congested after cleaning!
This happens to all parents (even those for whom it’s their profession!). Over time, you will become more comfortable. And even if you struggle with clearing your child’s nose, it doesn’t mean their life is at risk!
You might be feeling lost because every professional has their advice on the ‘best’ nasal cleaning technique:
- Your general practitioner encourages you to use a nasal aspirator.
- Your pharmacist recommends the Rhino Horn.
- Your pediatric physiotherapist and the nursery nurses swear by single-dose plastic droppers.
- Your ENT specialist suggests using a bulb syringe.
- And so on.
But also on the best position: sitting on the couch, standing in front of a sink, lying on the side, lying on the back…
Remember: we’re not able to identify one technique significantly superior to the others.
However, there are three things that most people tend to agree on when it comes to nasal cleaning:
Three things to do during nasal cleaning, regardless of the technique:
- Wash your hands before and after cleaning your child’s nose. This will help limit the risk of contamination, whether with soap or hand sanitizer.
- Use saline solution rather than ‘normal’ water or a medicated solution.
- Use the solution at room temperature, not straight from the fridge or heated.
Here’s what I wanted to tell you about this! I wish you a very good recovery! Do you have any comments or questions? Your comments are welcome 🙂 !
You may also like:
King D, Mitchell B, Williams CP, Spurling GK. Saline nasal irrigation for acute upper respiratory tract infections. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Apr 20;2015(4):CD006821. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD006821.pub3. PMID: 25892369; PMCID: PMC9475221.
Chirico et al. Nasal congestion in infants and children: a Literature review on efficacy and safety of non-pharmacological treatments. Minerva Pediatrica 2014 December;66(6):549-57
Chirico et al. Nasal obstruction in neonates and infants. Minerva Pediatrica 2010 October;62(5):499-505
Michelle Leclerc. Enquête sur la pratique du désencombrement rhino-pharyngé du nourrisson. 2011.
Written by Nelly Darbois
I love writing articles based on my experience as a physiotherapist (since 2012), scientific writer, and extensive researcher in international scientific literature.
I live in the French Alps 🌞❄️, where I work as a scientific editor for my own website, which is where you are right now.