Whatever your age, a blocked nose can be uncomfortable. It makes breathing difficult, often forcing you to do so through your mouth, which in turn can cause a sore throat and make everyday things like eating and sleeping more difficult.
Children and adults can overcome a blocked nose relatively easily. But for babies, it’s different. Like so many other actions that require voluntary effort, they are at the mercy of their parents or carers. Inevitably this leads to discomfort and distress on the baby’s part, particularly when their sleeping and eating cycles become disrupted.
But luckily, there are ways that you can help – and one in particular to know about: the nasal aspirator. Found in paediatrician clinics across the country – and now, more and more widely available to buy – nasal aspirators let you clear your baby’s nose simply, hygienically and effectively.
This article will help you find out more about nasal aspirators, understand how they work and how to use them. As with any medical issue, medicine or medical device, if you have any questions, consult a healthcare professional.
Why do babies get blocked noses?
Most nasal congestion occurs when our noses are trying to eject germs, dirt, dust, smoke or other irritants. To do this, the nose produces mucus, which gathers all this detritus up the leaks it out of the nostril. Sometimes, blood vessels in the nose may swell up as well, which can cause a further blocking of the airways.
It’s also known for dry air to cause blocked noses, As the air dries out the inner lining of the nostril, the skin can crack and cause swelling. Dry air often occurs in winter, when central heating is more likely to be on, or in air-conditioned buildings.
What is a nasal aspirator?
A nasal aspirator (sometimes referred to as a ‘nose aspirator’) is a small suction device that’s specifically designed to physically remove any mucus that’s built up in the baby’s nose. This clears up the airways and helps them breathe a more easily. The removed mucus is often collected in a separate chamber, so that it can be safely and hygienically disposed of.
While there is a range of nasal aspirators on the market, the core design principle behind each is usually the same: a hollow squeezable bulb attached to a tube creates a vacuum. When the tube is placed within the nostril, it sucks up the mucus, and deposits it in a separate container.
How to use a nasal aspirator
To clean up your baby’s nose with an aspirator, you’ll need the following:
- Nasal aspirator device (widely available)
- Saline solution or nose drops
Step 1 - Prepare your saline solution. You can either buy specially made drops from pharmacies or supermarkets, or you can make your own at home: simply mix a quarter teaspoon of salt into a cup of warm water. (Be sure never to use the same solution twice – make a fresh solution each time.)
Step 2 – Carefully rest your baby on the blanket for comfort, then use a pipette to squirt three drops of saline solution into both their nostrils. This will help soften and break down the mucus, making it easier to extract.
Step 3 – Gently squeeze the aspirator to push all the air from the bulb to create a vacuum. Keeping the bulb compressed, place the tip of the aspirator gently inside the nostril. Be careful not to probe too far into the nostril to avoid causing any damage.
Step 4 – Release the bulb. You’ll hear more than see the nasal aspirator extract the mucus from the baby’s nostril. This may upset the child, as the process will feel very strange and uncomfortable.
Step 5 – Squeeze the mucus out onto a tissue (although some aspirators will collect it in a separate chamber – read the instructions) and then repeat the process on the other nostril. Always clear out the aspirator before attempting to suck up more mucus.
You may need to do this several times per nostril to completely clear it out. When done, wipe the baby’s nose with a clean tissue to remove any excess mucus to prevent drying up and irritating the skin.
You should suction your baby’s nostrils no more than four times a day to prevent damaging the interior lining of their nostrils. Use the aspirator before they’re fed, otherwise it may cause them to vomit.
To clean the nasal aspirator after use, mix up some warm soapy water. Fill the aspirator with some of it and shake the water around to clean up the mucus still inside, before squeezing the water out again. Repeat several times, then repeat it once more with clean cold water to remove any soapy residue. Always clean the aspirator after it’s been used.
Different kinds of nasal aspirator
All nasal aspirators use suction to remove mucus. However, some designs are better than others. Here’s what to look out for:
Bulb nasal aspirator
The one described in the ‘how to’ section is called a bulb nasal aspirator. It is the most widely used and easily found – whether in hospitals and clinics or in shop and online – and their simple design makes them particularly cost-effective. This doesn’t mean they’re perfect, however. The biggest problem is that the interior can be hard to get to. This means you can’t see how clean it is after use – if there’s any mucus left in there, it could harbour bacteria. The design also makes it difficult to dry. So, after a while, even with repeated washing, the interior is likely to get dirty.
Electric nasal aspirators
As the name implies, these are powered by electricity and provide a much more powerful means of suction than manual models. Many can also be cleaned in a dish washer and have many convenient features such as transparent storage so you can see how much mucus is being extracted. Because of the ease of use and many useful features, parents tend to favour these above other models.
However, these are more expensive than manual aspirators. Another issue is that it’s possible for mucus to build up in hard-to-clean areas of the device, potentially giving rise to contamination from germs. Some models can also have inconsistent results, depending on the power and charge of the batteries.
Human suction aspirators
These work by placing a mouthpiece and filter at the end of the tube, so that the parent can suck the mucus out themselves manually. The simplicity of the design makes this kind of aspirator cost-effective as well as easy to clean. Further, parents have much more control over the power of suction. The filter and mouthguard prevent any mucus from being accidentally sucked up the tube, but they should still be washed thoroughly after use.
Are nasal aspirators safe?
Used correctly, nasal aspirators are perfectly safe to use. A testament to their utility is that every hospital will have one on stand-by. However, they need to be used correctly to achieve the desired result.
Whichever type you decide to us, remember to read the instructions carefully. These will outline any precautions – for example, you should limit use of aspirators to a maximum of four times a day, and each session should be evenly spaced out to give plenty of recovery time in between. If you exceed this, you may dry out and irritate the nostrils, which could make the problem worse or even cause nose bleeds. It’s important not to overuse saline solution for the same reason.
Otherwise, when used correctly and responsibly, nasal aspirators are an excellent tool for clearing a baby’s blocked nose.