Nasal Obstruction in Children


Nasal Obstruction

Nasal obstruction in children is a prevalent concern impacting their well-being and development. It entails the partial or complete blockage of nasal passages, often leading to breathing difficulties. Various factors, including anatomical anomalies, allergies, infections, or nasal tumors, can contribute to this condition. Addressing nasal obstruction in children is pivotal for ensuring optimal health and quality of life. With the guidance of specialists such as Dr. G V K Chaitanya Rao, caregivers can navigate the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options available, ensuring the best care for their child’s nasal health.

Anatomy of the Nasal Cavity in Children

The nasal cavity in children is a complex structure vital for respiratory function, olfaction, and immune defense. Comprising various anatomical features, it undergoes significant developmental changes from infancy through adolescence.

Key components of the pediatric nasal cavity include the nasal septum, turbinates, nasal passages, and adenoids. The nasal septum divides the nasal cavity into left and right sides, contributing to airflow direction and nasal stability. Turbinates, or nasal conchae, are bony structures covered in mucous membranes that help humidify, warm, and filter incoming air.

The size and shape of the nasal passages in children differ from adults, with narrower airways and a relatively larger adenoid pad. These anatomical characteristics can predispose children to nasal obstruction and respiratory issues, particularly during periods of growth and development. Understanding the nuances of pediatric nasal anatomy is essential for diagnosing and managing conditions such as nasal congestion, obstruction, and nasal deformities effectively.

Causes and Risk Factors

Common causes of nasal obstruction in children include:

Enlarged Adenoids: The adenoids, located at the back of the nasal cavity, can become enlarged due to inflammation or infection, obstructing nasal airflow.

Allergic Rhinitis: Allergies to environmental triggers such as pollen, dust mites, or pet dander can cause nasal inflammation and congestion, leading to obstruction.

Nasal Polyps: Benign growths in the nasal passages, known as nasal polyps, can obstruct airflow and contribute to nasal congestion, particularly in children with chronic sinusitis or allergic rhinitis.

Deviated Septum: A deviated nasal septum, where the partition between the nostrils is crooked or off-center, can impede airflow and cause nasal obstruction.

Upper Respiratory Infections: Viral or bacterial infections, such as the common cold or sinusitis, can cause nasal congestion and obstruction due to swelling of the nasal tissues and increased mucus production.

Structural Abnormalities: Congenital or acquired structural abnormalities of the nose, such as choanal atresia, nasal masses, or nasal valve collapse, can restrict nasal airflow and cause obstruction.

Risk factors that may predispose children to nasal obstruction include:

Family History: Children with a family history of allergic rhinitis, asthma, or nasal structural abnormalities may have an increased risk of developing nasal obstruction.

Environmental Exposures: Exposure to environmental pollutants, tobacco smoke, or allergens can increase the likelihood of nasal congestion and obstruction in susceptible children.

Immune System Dysfunction: Children with underlying immune system disorders or immunodeficiency conditions may be more susceptible to recurrent upper respiratory infections and nasal congestion.

Anatomical Factors: Certain anatomical features, such as narrow nasal passages, enlarged adenoids, or a deviated septum, can predispose children to nasal obstruction and related symptoms.

Age: Infants and young children are particularly susceptible to nasal obstruction due to their smaller nasal passages and underdeveloped immune systems, making them more prone to infections and inflammation.

Clinical Presentation

Nasal Congestion: Children with nasal obstruction often experience difficulty breathing through the nose due to congestion or stuffiness. This may be persistent or worsen during exposure to allergens or respiratory infections.

Mouth Breathing: Nasal obstruction may lead children to breathe through their mouth as they attempt to compensate for restricted nasal airflow. Mouth breathing can result in dry mouth, bad breath, and potential facial development issues.

Snoring: Children with nasal obstruction may snore during sleep, especially when lying on their back. Snoring may be accompanied by sleep disturbances like fragmented sleep or obstructive sleep apnea.

Noisy Breathing: Audible sounds such as whistling, snorting, or snuffling may be heard during inhalation or exhalation in children with nasal obstruction, both at rest and during physical activity.

Nasal Discharge: Nasal obstruction can lead to increased mucus production and discharge, which may vary in color and consistency. Postnasal drip, where mucus drips down the throat, may also occur.

Difficulty Sleeping: Nasal obstruction can disrupt children’s sleep patterns, leading to difficulty falling asleep, frequent awakenings, or restless sleep. This may result in daytime fatigue and irritability.

Reduced Appetite: Children with nasal obstruction may experience feeding difficulties or a reduced appetite, particularly infants who rely on nasal breathing while feeding. Nasal congestion can make it challenging for them to breathe comfortably while eating.

Facial Pressure or Pain: In cases of acute sinusitis or severe nasal congestion, children may experience facial pressure or pain, often around the cheeks, forehead, or eyes. This discomfort may worsen with certain head positions or activities.

Diagnostic Evaluation

Medical History: Healthcare providers begin by gathering a comprehensive medical history, including details about the child’s symptoms, duration of nasal obstruction, presence of allergies, previous respiratory infections, and any relevant family history.

Physical Examination: A thorough physical examination is conducted to assess nasal anatomy, mucosal integrity, presence of nasal polyps or masses, and signs of inflammation or infection. Examination may also include assessment of facial structures, oral cavity, and neck lymph nodes.

Nasal Endoscopy: Nasal endoscopy allows direct visualization of the nasal cavity and nasopharynx using a thin, flexible endoscope. This procedure helps identify structural abnormalities, such as septal deviation, turbinate hypertrophy, adenoid enlargement, or foreign bodies.

Imaging Studies: Imaging studies such as sinus X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be recommended to evaluate the nasal and sinus anatomy in detail. These studies can identify structural abnormalities, assess the extent of sinus involvement, and guide treatment planning.

Allergy Testing: Allergy testing, including skin prick tests or blood tests for specific IgE antibodies, may be performed to identify allergens triggering nasal symptoms. This information helps guide allergen avoidance strategies and allergy immunotherapy if indicated.

Nasal Function Tests: Nasal function tests, such as rhinomanometry or acoustic rhinometry, measure nasal airflow and volume to assess nasal patency objectively. These tests help quantify the degree of nasal obstruction and monitor treatment response over time.

Nasal Cytology: Nasal cytology involves obtaining a nasal smear or swab to examine nasal secretions microscopically. This test can identify inflammatory cells, bacteria, viruses, or fungi present in the nasal mucosa, aiding in the diagnosis of infectious or inflammatory conditions.

Sleep Studies: In cases of suspected obstructive sleep apnea or sleep-disordered breathing, overnight polysomnography or home sleep apnea testing may be recommended to evaluate respiratory parameters during sleep and assess the severity of breathing abnormalities.

Treatment Approaches

  • Nasal corticosteroids: Topical nasal corticosteroid sprays reduce nasal inflammation and swelling, improving airflow and relieving symptoms of congestion.
  • Antihistamines: Oral or intranasal antihistamines may be prescribed to manage allergic rhinitis and reduce nasal congestion associated with allergies.
  • Decongestants: Short-term use of oral or intranasal decongestants may provide temporary relief from nasal congestion by constricting blood vessels in the nasal mucosa.
  • Saline irrigation: Nasal saline irrigation with saline sprays or neti pots helps moisturize nasal passages, clear mucus, and reduce nasal congestion.
  • Allergy immunotherapy: Allergy shots or sublingual immunotherapy may be recommended for children with allergic rhinitis to desensitize the immune system to specific allergens.
  • Adenoidectomy: Surgical removal of enlarged adenoids may be indicated in children with obstructive adenoid hypertrophy contributing to nasal obstruction or sleep-disordered breathing.
  • Turbinate reduction: Turbinate reduction surgery, such as turbinate cautery or submucosal resection, aims to reduce the size of hypertrophic nasal turbinates and improve nasal airflow.
  • Septoplasty: Septoplasty may be performed to correct deviated nasal septum contributing to nasal obstruction and improve nasal breathing.
  • Nasal polypectomy: Surgical removal of nasal polyps may be necessary in children with nasal polyps causing significant obstruction and symptoms.
  • Allergen avoidance: Identifying and avoiding allergens triggering nasal symptoms can help reduce allergic rhinitis symptoms and improve nasal airflow.
  • Humidification: Using a humidifier in the child’s bedroom can add moisture to the air and alleviate nasal dryness, especially during dry or winter months.
  • Environmental controls: Implementing measures to minimize exposure to environmental irritants, such as tobacco smoke, air pollutants, and indoor allergens, can help reduce nasal congestion and improve nasal health.
  • Nasal hygiene: Encouraging regular nasal hygiene practices, such as proper handwashing and avoiding nose picking, can help prevent infections and reduce nasal irritation.
  • Maintaining hydration: Ensuring adequate fluid intake helps keep nasal secretions thin and facilitates mucus clearance, reducing nasal congestion.
  • Avoiding nasal irritants: Advising children to avoid exposure to nasal irritants, such as strong odors, chemical fumes, and air pollution, can help minimize nasal inflammation and congestion.


In conclusion, addressing nasal obstruction in children is crucial for their overall well-being and development. With proper diagnosis and intervention, caregivers can effectively manage this condition and ensure optimal nasal health for their children. Seeking guidance from specialists like Dr. G V K Chaitanya Rao can provide valuable insights and personalized treatment options tailored to the child’s needs, ultimately promoting better breathing and quality of life.

About the author

Best ent doctor hyderabad | Dr.GVK Chaitanya Rao

Dr. Chaitanya Rao, Managing director at Dr. Rao’s ENT group of hospitals has 10 years experience in the field of ENT.

His special areas of interest include Nose & sinus surgeries, Otology, Snoring and sleep apnea surgeries. During his Post-graduation itself he was invited as a visiting physician to House Institute of Medical sciences, Los Angeles; Rhinology and Anterior skull base unit, Ohio State University Medical Centre, Columbus, Ohio and University of Michigan from where he picked up his skills.

He plays a key role (Course Director & co-ordinator) in giving hands on training to around 150 ENT surgeons every year from all around the world for initiating and improving their ENT surgical skills as a part of Hyderabad ENT Research Foundation initiatives.

Recent Updates

Call Us