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Dirt in Infant's Nostrils

Hello, I'm a mother of an eight months old son. I'm writing to inquire about the possibility of SIDS occurring due to the built-up of dirt in the nostrils. You see, when my son was born, we asked the nurse in the hospital whether we need to clear the nostrils from its built-up dirt and the nurse replied that the nostrils would self-cleanse, usually by sneezing. A couple of days after we arrived home, I heard a wheezing sound coming from my son. I checked to see whether he was running a fever, he was not. Then I instinctively looked into his nostrils to see if it were blocked. True enough, the built-up dirt had covered the entire "breathing path". I didn't want to wait for the nostrils to "self-cleanse" because I could see that my son is really in big trouble.

So, I wet a cotton swab and tried to remove the dirt. When I finally took it out, I was shocked to see the size of the piece of dirt! I know it was dangerous to stick the swab into my son's nostrils but I did not want to risk losing him. Then, a couple of weeks back, I started hearing my son "snorting" and choking, as if he were gasping for air. I again checked his nostrils and true enough, the nostrils were blocked again. This time, my son was actually sleeping and I wondered if I didn't hear his "snorts", would he have suffocated as a consequence of the blockage by the built-up dirt? Could this built-up dirt be a contributing factor to SIDS, especially if the baby was sleeping prone? If so, is there a better way to rid of the dirt other than using a swab which may accidentally go too far and cause permanent damage? I would really appreciate an answer for I want to make sure my son will not suffer the same again. Thank you very much.

12 July 1998

Newborn infants do breath through the nose. It is not until several months later that they usually breath through their mouths. But if the nose is blocked, they will open their mouths and breath through the mouth. Of course, once you put a nipple in the mouth, if the nose is blocked, there is no way to get air into the lungs.

But putting a Q-tip in a nose risks pushing the dirt, or usually mucous, deeper into the nose. Use a bulb syringe to "suck" out the dirt.

Michael Witman, MD
Lawrence & Memorial Hospitals
New London, CT

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