You’re changing the baby’s diaper, dressing them up or are playing with them, and suddenly the little one goes ‘achoo!’
And you go all ‘aww’ about it, until the child sneezes again, and then again. That’s when you start to worry about it.
Babies have a sensitive nasal tract and sneeze even at the slightest irritation. But it is perplexing to see your baby sneeze more than usual, and you may wonder if it is due to an allergic reaction or a cold. In this MomJunction article, we address your queries about sneezing in babies, its causes, and how you can help the baby feel better at home.
Why Do Babies Sneeze?
Sneezing is one of the reflexes of the human body and a part of the body’s natural defenses against illness (1). There are several reasons why a newborn or an infant would sneeze:
- Clearing of germs and irritants from the nose: Sneezing is the body’s natural reflex to clear nasal passages that have an irritant within. For a baby, anything including dust, smoke, milk that accidentally got into the nose, and even dry air can be an irritant. A sneeze helps them get rid of these irritants as well as germs.
- Expel mucus: Infants cannot blow their nose like adults do (2). Therefore, when they have nasal congestion due to mucus, they will sneeze as a natural reaction to throw out the mucus.
- Short nasal passages: Newborns are obligate nose breathers, which means they primarily depend on their nose for breathing and do not prefer breathing from the mouth (3). However, the nasal passages of the baby are tiny, and even the smallest obstruction in it can affect breathing. For instance, a baby may sneeze even when their nose presses against the chest of the mother while breastfeeding.
Infants are most likely to sneeze due to the above reasons. But frequent sneezing could be due to a health concern.
What Are The Signs Of Sneezing Due To Illness?
Frequent sneezing, when accompanied by one or more of these conditions, could point to a problem:
- Fever: A body temperature of above 100.4°F (38°C) is considered a fever in infants (4). If the baby has a fever along with sneezing, then it is quite likely due to an infection.
- Cold: The symptoms of cold include a runny nose, coughing, lethargy, and sometimes fever. A common cold is known to cause sneezing too.
- Coughing and wheezing: If the baby coughs, sneezes, and wheezes, then it could be that they have an allergy and possibly inhaled a potential allergen such as pollen. This causes the body to react with sneezing and other symptoms of an allergy.
- Fussiness, lethargy, and poor appetite: If the baby is fussy, colicky, lethargic, and shows little interest in eating, then it could indicate some illness.
- Rapid bursts of sneezing: Maternal usage of narcotics during pregnancy can result in neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) – a type of drug withdrawal condition ( (6)). One of the symptoms of the syndrome is sneezing in bursts of three to four in fixed intervals ( (7)). For example, the baby will sneeze three to four times rapidly in every half hour or an hour.
See a doctor if the baby displays any of these symptoms along with sneezing. If the baby’s sneezes are continuous and frequent, take them to a doctor, who can diagnose the cause behind the sneezing.
If there is no major reason, and the sneezes are due to cold, cough or irritants, then you may try some home remedies.
What Are The Home Remedies For Sneezing In Babies?
The following measures can alleviate the baby’s discomfort due to excessive sneezing:
- Nasal bulb: A nasal bulb, also called bulb syringe, helps suction out the mucus from the baby’s nostrils. It is an effective and often recommended home remedy for clearing the baby’s nose, especially if they are less than six months old (8).
Nasal bulbs are easy to use. Squeeze the bulb, insert its tip into the baby’s nostril, and then gently release the pressure. The bulb will draw out the mucus. Keep the baby in a seated position while using the nasal bulb. You can also put a few drops of saline into the baby’s nose to thin the mucus. Use saline drops only after doctor consultation.
- Humidifier: Dry air can irritate the nasal passages and make a baby sneeze. Use a cold-mist humidifier that pumps water vapor into dry air and makes it more comfortable for a baby to breathe.
- Keep the baby away from allergens: Dust, smoke, and pollution can irritate the baby’s nasal lining and make them sneeze. So keep such allergens away, especially if the baby has allergies. If the baby is allergic to pollen, then do not take them to a garden during spring when there are likely to be more pollen in the air.
If the baby has allergies, then the doctor may prescribe antihistamines.
All said and done, you don’t have to worry if the baby sneezes a couple of times, for it could just be a reflex. Stay alert to signs of illness, and you could detect the exact cause of sneezing. Treatment and home remedies will keep their nasal passages clear and prevent sneezing.
Do you have any experiences to share? Tell us about them in the comments section below.
2. Whooping Cough Can Kill; University of Utah
3. M.J. Miller et al., Oral breathing in newborn infants; National Center for Biotechnology Information
4. Signs and Symptoms of Fever; American Academy of Pediatrics
5. Diagnosing Allergies; American Academy of Pediatrics
6. Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome; University of Rochester
7. Withdrawal Scoring Sheet; Stanford Medicine
8. Caring for Your Child’s Cold or Flu; American Academy of Pediatrics
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