Can a Baby Choke to Death on Mucus?

| Reviewed By Amanda Lundberg, BSN, RN

Once you have a baby, your brain will go into overdrive considering potential threats. Situations you may have never even thought about before now seem ominous.

You will baby-proof your whole house of course, but is it still possible for your child to choke on something internal, like saliva or snot?

Can a baby choke to death on mucus? Technically, a baby can choke to death on anything, including mucus. Babies have smaller airways than adults, so they can get blocked quickly and cause breathing issues. However, it’s not likely that your child will choke to death on mucus, so don’t panic just yet.

Mucus serves a purpose and has a job to do. It’s important to know what you can do if your child is producing so much mucus that choking is an issue.

Baby Mucus – What To Know

Even babies can get stuffy noses that lead to congestion and drainage. It can be scary to experience, but it’s also very common.

Mucus in Baby Throat

The mucus in your child’s body has a purpose, and it can be affected by a variety of factors in your baby’s life. 

Purpose of Mucus

The mucus in your child’s throat helps lubricate his throat and nose while he is learning how to breathe through his mouth.

When you think about how your baby eats, you will notice that he has to breathe primarily through his nose for the first several months of his life.

Mucus helps lubricate the nose and the throat and can make it harder for germs to enter those areas.

Causes of Excess Mucus

Babies make excess mucus when their bodies are trying to keep undesirable irritants from entering the body.

If a child lives in a house with a smoker, for instance, expect excess mucus since your child’s body is trying to keep that smoke out of their lungs.

Your child may also have allergies that increase mucus production.

Be aware of the cleaners you use in your home since ingredients in these products can irritate your child’s nose, making the body produce more mucus for protection. A virus can also cause excessive mucus.

What’s Normal

Your child will have mucus. It will usually be clear and simply there to act as a lubricant for the mouth and throat. When your child has a cold, it’s normal for mucus to increase and change colors.

When To Worry

If your child is not breathing normally, won’t eat, is swallowing excessively, or is extremely cranky, it’s time to see your doctor.

Why Mucus Is a Problem With Babies

For very young infants, mucus can be a problem because of how small their air passageways are.

My son developed pneumonia at nine days old, and the situation was made worse by the fact that his airways were the size of coffee stirrers. Even moderately sized mucus could make it hard for him to breathe.

As your child ages, they grow. This makes mucus less of a threat because there is more room for air to still make it through the passageways in the body. 

A mother using a bulb syringe to suction her baby's nose.

How Do Babies Get Rid of Mucus?

Coughing, gagging, and mouth breathing are all ways that babies try to deal with mucus. You can help them by offering saline drops, keeping them hydrated with milk or formula, and using a humidifier or steam to help clear their noses.

Dangers of Mucus in Infants

The biggest danger of mucus for infants is when there is too much of it and it blocks the airways. This can happen with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) or other viruses. That’s why seeking treatment in these situations is essential.

Baby Choking on Mucus While Sleeping

If your baby is already struggling with excess mucus, bedtime can be scary. Your child needs to sleep on his back, but this position can also make it easier for him to choke on mucus.

Use a humidifier in the room at night (this one is excellent and operates in total silence). The moist air thins the mucus to allow for better drainage and prevents the mucus from becoming lodged in the airways.

Additionally, you may want to perform a manual removal of the mucus with either a bulb syringe or nasal aspirator. These devices gently suck the mucus from the nostril, clearing the nasal passages.  

How To Remove Mucus From Baby Throat

When your child is choking on mucus and you need to act, sit your child in a way where he is leaning forward so it will be easier for him to get the mucus out.

Use a bulb syringe to help you remove any mucus from the mouth that he can’t get rid of on his own.

You want to make sure to squeeze the syringe before you place it into your child’s mouth so it will suction the mucus when you release it in the mouth. 

How To Prevent Excess Mucus in Babies

Since antihistamines aren’t an option, you have to find other ways to prevent your baby from producing excess mucus. Use saline drops to help loosen the mucus, and then clean it out with a bulb syringe or Nose Frida.

The Nose Frida was a favorite in our house because it allowed you to see how much mucus you removed, and it was easier to clean and keep free from mold than a regular bulb syringe.

You can also use a humidifier in your child’s room to help keep mucus thinned at night.

It’s also not a bad idea to talk to your doctor about your baby’s formula or what he is getting through your breast milk.

Certain foods or ingredients can increase mucus production, so you may want to cut those out of your child’s diet if mucus is an issue.

Related Questions: 

Can an Infant Choke on Spit Up?

Babies can choke on spit up, but they are usually able to clear it out pretty easily.

Know how to perform the infant Heimlich maneuver on your baby in case they choke, but remember not to stick your finger in your child’s mouth to try to clear out the hazard.

You can actually push it back further into their throat and block the airways.

Can a Baby Choke on Milk?

Your baby can and will likely choke on milk in the early days of life. Don’t panic.

When you notice your child is having trouble taking in the milk, pull him away from the breast or the bottle, and sit him upright. Pat him on the back. He will be able to clear his airways and spit up the milk that was causing a problem.

Can Babies Take Antihistamines?

No matter how stuffy your child’s nose is, the FDA does not consider antihistamines an option for kids under the age of two. If your child needs support with allergy or mucus issues, talk to your child’s pediatrician about age-appropriate approaches.

Final Thoughts

Mucus can be gross and troublesome for your baby, but knowing how to handle an overload of the snotty stuff will help keep your baby safe and healthy.