Neonatal rhinitis is the swelling of tissues inside the nose. Newborns with neonatal rhinitis may have difficulties breathing and trouble eating if it’s left untreated.

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Rhinitis or swelling of nasal tissues can affect individuals of all ages and is typically divided into allergic and nonallergic categories. When rhinitis is present in a newborn, it’s known as neonatal rhinitis.

As a new parent, it can be scary to watch your child struggling to breathe through their nose or having trouble feeding. While it may be comforting to know how common rhinitis is, you may wonder if you should talk with a doctor and what steps you can take to treat rhinitis.

Neonatal rhinitis is the inflammation of tissues inside the nose of newborns. This swelling obstructs breathing and causes excess mucus. It can also cause difficulties with sleeping and eating. Rhinitis is a serious concern for babies, as they’re obligate nose breathers, meaning they breathe primarily through their nose.

Rhinitis is a condition that can affect people throughout their lives, and there’s a fair amount of research into rhinitis in older children and adults. But neonatal rhinitis as a distinct condition hasn’t been as well defined or researched.

Symptoms of neonatal rhinitis include:

Rhinitis in infants may be caused by:

  • allergens (e.g., pollen, mold, animal dander, etc.)
  • infections
  • hormones passed to the baby at birth
  • obstructions in the nose or nasal structural changes
  • acid reflux

Neonatal rhinitis may be evident based on a physical exam and an infant’s breathing or feeding issues.

In some cases, doctors may perform a flexible nasopharyngoscopy procedure to look inside the nose. This can help with identifying any structural problems or physical blockages. But this more invasive diagnostic procedure is often reserved for cases when nasal inflammation and congestion don’t improve with medications.

If your toddler or young child has chronic rhinitis, a doctor may recommend additional testing to determine if allergies are present.

Again, babies breathe primarily through their nose, so treating nasal obstructions, including rhinitis, is important.

While breathing through their nose typically allows newborns to simultaneously eat and breathe, any nasal obstructions can cause respiratory distress and feeding issues. Try to get medical help immediately if your infant stops breathing for more than 20 seconds, begins to breathe rapidly, or has a bluish color around their lips.

To treat neonatal rhinitis, a doctor or pediatrician may prescribe oxymetazalone (Afrin) or dexamethasone (Decadron drops) for temporary use. These should help to lower congestion and swelling in the nose.

Applying saline and gentle suction can also help clear out congestion, but they shouldn’t be used right after the prescribed drops. A humidifier or air purifier may also be helpful.

If a doctor or pediatrician suspects acid reflux is playing a role, they may recommend more specific treatment to address the underlying issue.

In some rare cases, surgery may be necessary to address structural blockages contributing to an infant’s rhinitis. A doctor or pediatrician can help you determine if this is necessary.

According to a study from 2011, children under the age of 6 are more likely to have rhinitis if they’re exposed to:

  • smoke
  • molds and dust
  • environmental pollution
  • animals

Infants with a family history of congenital nasal structural changes or allergies are also at a greater risk of rhinitis.

Neonatal rhinitis is considered common and treatable. But it can cause poor feeding, which can lead to low weight gain. It can also lead to serious respiratory distress if left unmanaged.

Depending on the cause of their neonatal rhinitis, a child may continue to experience occasional difficulties with inflammation inside their nose for the rest of their life. But many babies outgrow it with time.

How long does neonatal rhinitis last?

Neonatal rhinitis can resolve on its own and only requires treatment if it’s negatively affecting your baby’s ability to eat and breathe. If a doctor or pediatrician does recommend a specific treatment, talk with them if symptoms don’t improve after a full week of treatment.

What causes neonatal nasal obstruction?

Neonatal nasal obstruction may be caused by a cold, the flu, allergies, or acid reflux. It can also be caused by hormones and physical structural changes in the nose.

How do you treat a nasal obstruction in a newborn?

Saline sprays and suction bulbs may help clear out your baby’s nose. It’s important to notify a doctor or pediatrician if their breathing doesn’t improve after a few days of home treatments. In addition to prescribing medications, a doctor or pediatrician can check to make sure there’s nothing physically obstructing your little one’s ability to breathe.

Neonatal rhinitis is a swelling of tissues in the nose. It can make it hard for newborns to breathe and cause trouble with feeding and sleeping.

A doctor or pediatrician can prescribe medicated drops to treat neonatal rhinitis. You can also use a saline spray and suction bulb to help clear out the extra mucus. If your newborn shows symptoms of having trouble eating or breathing, contact a doctor or pediatrician right away.