NASAL CONGESTION

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Nasal congestion is simply nasal mucus that is partially obstruction the nasal passages. Nasal congestion is not a runny nose but rather is a stuffy nose. A stuffy nose will sound "stuffy" or nasally, but will not be runny.

Nasal mucus is produced to moisten the air entering the lungs to prevent drying out the lungs. Nasal mucus is also produced in response to a nasal irritation such as with cigarette smoke, hair spray, perfume, house dust, stove smoke (wood and coal) or when someone suctions the nose too vigorously. When the child can't remove the dried secretions on their own, then the mucus will partially obstruct the airway and the parents will hear congestion.

Nasal congestion is not an infection and therefore cannot be spread.

Nasal congestion is almost universal among infants below 6 months of age and among all of us in the winter. Even without treatment, most congestion will subside about 4 to 6 months of age. Some children will have abnormally small nasal passages, allergies or continued exposure to irritants and the symptoms could continue indefinitely.

Nasal congestion is fairly distinct, but some other problems can be similar:

Allergies: This gives a runny nose, not generally a stuffy one. There often will be pinkness to the eye lids and clear runny eyes.

Choanal Atresia: The is a membrane that blocks one or both nasal passages. A infant with both passages blocked would not get out of the hospital undiscovered. If one of the passages was blocked, the baby would only be able to breathe out of one nostril. You can test for this by simply blocking one nostril and listening to see if the baby breathes out the other. This will not resolve on its own and cannot just show up later, therefore, if your child had been able to breathe through that nostril before then this is not the cause.

Colds: a cold gives a runny nose not a stuffy one, but you can treat a cold the same way. Colds also give low grade fevers and a cough, which nasal congestion never has with it.

Nasal polyp: These are quite unusual in this age range, in fact I have never seen one in a child. This would be essentially like a choanal atresia except that it is not present at first and grows later.

Sinus infection: This is usually a profusely runny nasal discharge that is green and associated with a "face ache" and low grade fevers.

Nasal congestion is easy to diagnose and treat on your own. If you see something not mentioned here or something changes, then you may want to let your physician know:

During business hours if: the mucus become profuse and green (green nasal mucus is a normal healing process provided it only lasts a few days) or worsens over a couple of days, there is a low fever (<102), you have tried all of the above without success (nothing cures it you can just make your child comfortable for awhile), your child has moderate difficulty with eating (after you have suctioned them out of course).

Immediately if: your child develops great difficulty breathing even after suctioning.

Copyright 2006 Joe Matusic, MD. This document may be freely copied and distributed, providing there is no charge for duplication or the material and this copyright notice remains affixed.

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