Babies and toddlers may have seven to eight episodes of cold a year (1). The main concern for caregivers is the cold symptoms, such as a blocked nose, which can cause significant discomfort to babies. Babies are obligate nasal breathers, and a blocked nose may affect their routines, including feeding and sleeping (2).
Parents could consider using nasal saline drops to relieve blocked nose due to cold and other respiratory illnesses. Nasal saline drops are a liquid mixture of distilled water and salt. These are non-medicated and considered safe for babies.
Read on as we tell you how nasal saline drops work, how to make it at home, and the correct way to administer nasal saline drops to a baby.
How Do Nasal Saline Drops Work?
The nasal saline drops work by passing through the delicate nasal membrane and reducing the excess mucus secretion (3). It neither irritates nor harms the nasal tissues.
Pediatricians recommend using a nasal bulb or a bulb syringe along with the nasal saline drops to suction and clear the mucus from the baby’s nose. The saline solution also thins the congested or hardened mucus within the nose, making it easier to suction the mucus through the nostrils.
Nasal saline drops could provide the following benefits to babies with nasal congestion.
- The use of nasal saline to remove accumulated mucus has been noted to reduce the risk of other infections, such as ear infections (4).
- It could reduce the need for other medications, such as antihistamines, which could have potential side effects.
- The timely use of nasal saline may help improve the function of cilia, the hair-like structures on the cells of the nasal and sinus tissues (5). The cilia play an essential role in clearing the nose and sinuses of excess mucus.
- Infections could inflame nasal tissues. The saline solution could narrow down the blood vessels that lead to inflamed nasal tissue. It could help reduce inflammation and make it easier for the baby to breathe (6). It may also improve the flow of mucus.
- Nasal aspiration after saline administration may help rinse potential allergens, such as pollen and dust. Allergies could cause excess mucus secretion, which can lead to a blocked nose.
How To Make Nasal Saline Drops For Babies At Home?
You may purchase nasal saline drops from a store or may make it at home. Here the steps to make nasal saline drops at home (7).
- Wash your hands thoroughly to prevent any contamination.
- Purchase distilled water or use filtered tap water. Boil the distilled or tap water for a minute.
- Cool the water until it turns warm. Drop a few drops on your skin to check if it is comfortably warm.
- Pour a cup (236ml / 8fl.oz.) of warm water in a clean container.
- Add 1/4th teaspoon of plain non-iodized salt and stir it until the salt dissolves completely. The nasal saline drops are ready.
You must discard any unused saline. Make a new batch of nasal saline drops each time you need it.
How To Administer Nasal Saline Drops?
Before you begin, you will need a container of saline drops, a nasal dropper, a bulb syringe, and tissue papers or washcloths to collect the mucus.
Here is how to administer nasal saline drops to a baby (8).
- Wash your hands thoroughly before you begin.
- Lay your baby on their back. You may swaddle the baby or let another person hold the baby to prevent them from moving.
- Use a nasal dropper to drop one or two drops of saline drops in the baby’s nostril. You must administer the saline drops to one nostril at a time.
- Leave the saline for a minute. It is okay for the baby to sneeze, and you need not add more saline. If the baby becomes cranky, distract or soothe them.
- Take the bulb syringe, squeeze out all the air, keep the bulb compressed so that air does not re-enter, and gently insert the narrow tip into the baby’s nostril. Do not push the tip far; insert it as far it goes without resistance.
- Release compression on the bulb. It will draw the mucus.
- Remove the bulb’s tip from the nostril. Squeeze and release the collected mucus in a tissue paper or into the sink.
- Repeat the same process with the other nostril.
- Once done, wipe out any mucus around the baby’s nostrils with clean tissue paper.
- Wash the bulb syringe and nasal dropper with soapy water and leave it to dry. Discard any remaining nasal saline water.
Precautions To Take While Using Nasal Saline Drops
The following precautions help in the safe use of nasal saline and suctioning of mucus (8).
- Do not administer the nasal saline drops more than three times a day as it may make the nasal passages sore.
- Do not mix or use the saline with other medications.
- Do not use medicated nasal saline drops unless directed by the doctor.
- Your baby’s doctor may recommend a specific number of drops or frequency of administration. Stick to the doctor’s prescription.
- Administer the drops 15 to 20 minutes before a feeding session to prevent the risk of gagging or vomiting while feeding. Never administer nasal drops after the baby has been fed.
- Do not push the bulb syringe too far into the nose. Aim it outwards (towards the cheeks) instead of aiming to the middle (towards the nasal septum).
- If the baby has cold or other infections, it is ideal to sterilize the bulb syringe and nasal dropper by boiling them or washing them with absolute alcohol. It would prevent reinfection due to any pathogens that remain on the equipment.
- Do not share the same nasal dropper and bulb syringe with other babies.
Possible Side Effects Of Nasal Saline Drops
Saline nasal drops are safe and seldom cause any problems. The use of saline drops may cause the following side effects in some babies (3).
- Excessive use of saline drops may cause soreness of nasal tissue and the skin around the nostril.
- Babies with sensitive nasal passages may experience minor bleeding and a stinging sensation in their noses.
- Some babies may gag or vomit due to the saline.
- Some saline liquid may trickle from the nose into the nasopharynx and reach the mouth and the throat. It may cause some babies to cough. Older babies and toddlers may experience hoarseness of voice for some time.
- Medicated nasal saline may cause other side effects, depending on the medicine in it.
In most cases, reducing the drops of nasal saline or changing its consistency may help avoid side effects. Consult a doctor if you notice any side effects.
A blocked nose is often a nuisance for most babies since it makes breathing difficult. It ultimately leads to crankiness and may also interfere with sleep and feeding. Nasal saline drops are a safe remedy to deal with congested nasal mucus. It is safe and can even be prepared at home. If your baby has signs of severe infection, such as fever, you may consult a doctor who may prescribe you appropriate nasal saline drops and other medicines for relief.
2. Treating Your Baby’s Cold: Nasal Saline & Suction; Boys Town Pediatrics
3. Saline nasal sprays, drops & rinses; Health Navigator
4. G Chirico, G Quartarone, and P Mallefet, Nasal congestion in infants and children; National Library of Medicine
5. Nasal Saline Rinse Children’s; Minnesota
6. How To Use Nasal Drop; MyHealth; Malaysia
7. Suctioning the Nose with a Bulb Syringe; Nationwide Children’s Hospital
8. Suctioning the Nose with a Bulb Syringe; Cincinnati Children’s Hospital