Can Nasal Aspirators Cause Brain Damage in Babies

Can Nasal Aspirators Cause Brain Damage in Babies?

by | Updated: Jan 28, 2023

Having a baby is an exciting experience. Your bundle of joy immediately becomes your number one priority. And are probably watching every single move that doctors, nurses, and medical professionals make.

Therefore, you may have noticed them using a nasal aspirator — or, in other words, a bulb syringe or natural nose sucker.

Babies get congested from time to time, and these nostril suckers are commonly used to remove mucus, making it easier to breathe. However, one common question is this:

Is it possible for a nasal aspirator to cause brain damage? There are a few important points you should keep in mind.

types of bulb suction nasal aspirators for babies illustration

A Nasal Aspirator Can Cause Nasal Damage

First, you must ensure you are not too aggressive with your nasal aspirator. The tissue that protects the inside of your baby’s nose is extremely delicate and thin.

If you push the nasal aspirator in too hard, you could cause nose bleeds by rupturing the tissue. Furthermore, if you post a nasal aspirator up too far, you could damage some of the tissue higher up, leading to more complications.

Even though the tissue within your baby’s nose should heal just fine, it could make it harder for you to use the nasal aspirator properly down the road. A nasal aspirator is actually relatively large in diameter because it has to suck up all of the mucus.

But, the good news is that the diameter makes it very hard to push it so far up the nostrils that it causes brain damage. Just beware of being too aggressive with the nasal aspirator, or you could find yourself dealing with more nosebleeds.

A Nose Sucker Could Lead To Swelling

If you use the nasal aspirator too much or push it up too far, you could cause swelling. Therefore you must make sure that you only use the nasal aspirator when it is necessary. You also need to reduce the number of times you insert the nasal aspirator into the nose.

You can do so by clearing out the nasal aspirator completely in between uses. Then, make sure you get a full suck using the aspirator before you pull it out again.

The more often you insert foreign objects into your child’s nose, the greater the chance of your child developing nasal swelling. Even though nasal swelling is unlikely to lead to brain damage, it could make breathing harder for your child, lengthening the recovery process.

Cross-Contamination Could Result From a Bulb Sucker

Because the diameter of a nasal aspirator is so large, it is very difficult to cause brain damage. On the other hand, there is one way that a bulb sucker could cause brain damage.

If you use the same bulb sucker on more than one child or unwittingly use a bulb sucker that another child has used, you could spread germs between children.

Even though you might be using your bulb sucker to remove mucus from your child’s nose, you might introduce a viral or bacterial infection into your child’s nose, spreading to the brain.

For example, if you introduce a bacterial infection to your child, it could eventually make its way to the brain, where it can cause various complications. That is why you must ensure that you only use your bulb sucker on one child.

You also must ensure that you wash the bulb sucker completely in between uses. That way, you can minimize the risk of your child contracting an infection.

infant brain damage illustration

How To Use a Bulb Sucker Properly

Even though it is very difficult for a bulb sucker to cause brain damage, you must ensure you use it properly. First, you need to collect the right materials. They include:

  • A bulb sucker
  • Saline or nose drops
  • Soft tissues
  • A blanket that you can roll up


Once you collect the right materials, the steps you need to follow include:

  1. First, make sure that you squeeze all the air out of the bulb. After removing all the air, keep the bulb tightly squeezed.
  2. With the sucker already squeezed, place the tip into one of your baby’s nostrils. Remember not to move the tip up too far, or you could cause a nosebleed.
  3. Now, release the bulb. Allow all of the air to flow back into the bulb. When the air flows into the bulb, the mucus will also leave the nose and flow into the bulb.
  4. Next, remove the nasal aspirator from the nose. Go ahead and squeeze all of the mucus onto a tissue. You need to squeeze the bulb multiple times to get everything out.
  5. Now, you can repeat the process using the other nostril.

If you find that the mucus is so thick that you cannot get it up the nasal aspirator, you can thin out the mucus using saline or prescribed respiratory drops. You may even want to try adding a humidifier to the room to loosen up the mucus a little bit.

Once you are done with the process, do not forget to wipe the nostrils to remove the mucus outside your child’s nose. This is important for preventing irritation from developing.

Rule of thumb: You should avoid suctioning the nostrils more than four times daily. Otherwise, you could irritate the nostrils, cause nasal swelling, and make breathing even harder for your child.

How Do You Clean a Nasal Aspirator?

Once you are done with the nasal aspirator, you must make sure you clean it properly. You should use warm, soapy water to clean the nasal aspirator after every use thoroughly.

You also need to make sure that you squeeze soapy water into the bulb to clean the inside of it. Once you get the soapy water inside the bulb itself, shake the aspirator a bit to knock off any gunk inside the aspirator.

You should repeat this step several times, filling the nasal aspirator with water and squirting it out to make sure it is clean. Then, give the nasal aspirator plenty of time to dry before you use it again.

You may even want to have multiple aspirators for one child, but you do not want to use the same nasal aspirator on multiple children, no matter how many of them you have. That way, you can minimize your child’s chances of infection.

Final Thoughts

Even though it is very unlikely, a bulb syringe could cause brain damage if not used properly. To avoid any complications, ensure you only use the bulb syringe on one child and that you clean it thoroughly after each use.

Also, do not forget to wipe your baby’s nostrils after suctioning them to remove any mucus that is outside the nose. By following these steps, you can minimize the chances of your child experiencing any complications.

Written by:

David Randolph, MD
David Randolph earned a bachelor's degree in Biochemistry and has work experience as a teaching assistant, tutor, and guest lecturer. He graduated from UNC-Chapel​ Hill School of Medicine in 2017.