The claim: Placing an onion near a baby's head treats nasal congestion
Treating a baby's nasal congestion is as easy as holding an onion near their head, according to an enduring myth on social media.
A Facebook post shared more than two years ago shows an image of a baby covered in blankets and an onion next to its head.
"Your child has a cold and having trouble sleeping at night!" reads text in the post. "Place a freshly cut onion close to his head not far from his nose. He'll sleep and sleep better. The onion decongests the nose. Test and approved."
The post has generated more than 1,000 reactions and 15,000 shares since it was published, and it recently regained traction on Facebook. But the claim is false.
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Onions do not cure nasal congestion in babies, as independent fact-checking organizations have noted. Experts told USA TODAY caretakers should not place onions in a baby's crib because they can pose potential hazards.
USA TODAY reached out to the Facebook user who shared the post for comment.
Onions can't treat congestion
Dr. Rafael Pelayo, clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, told USA TODAY the claim that onions are helpful for congestion is not scientifically based.
“(It) seems to be anecdotal, saying that it's a helpful thing for decongestion, but I couldn't find any actual studies showing that that's true,” Pelayo said.
Monica Ordway, a pediatric nurse practitioner at the Yale Pediatric Sleep Clinic, said onions should be nowhere near a baby's crib because loose objects can harm a child. She said they may increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, the "unexplained death, usually during sleep, of a seemingly healthy baby less than a year old," according to the Mayo Clinic.
Experts told USA TODAY one proven treatment for clearing a baby's dried and thickened mucus is nasal saline.
Dr. Craig Canapari, director of the sleep medicine program at Yale University, said caregivers can also use a bulb syringe or another instrument to suck out the mucus. Caregivers should consult with their pediatrician if a baby under three months of age has a fever because they could be at risk for a serious infection, he said.
Ordway said there are other problems with the Facebook post aside from its claim about onions.
Babies should not sleep on their stomachs, as depicted in the image, because it can lead to accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed. Instead, babies should sleep on their backs, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
The image also shows multiple blankets wrapped around the child. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, "a large percentage of infants who die of SIDS are found with their head covered by bedding."
"No pillows, sheets, blankets, or any other items that could obstruct infant breathing or cause overheating should be in the bed," the organization says on its website.
Our rating: False
Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that placing an onion near a baby's head treats nasal congestion. Experts told USA TODAY there is no scientific evidence that onions cure congestion.
Our fact-check sources:
Monica Ordway, Dec. 22, Phone interview with USA TODAY
Dr. Craig Canapari, Dec. 22, Phone interview with USA TODAY
Dr. Rafael Pelayo, Dec. 23, Phone interview with USA TODAY
University of Michigan Health, Dec. 2, 2020, Saltwater Washes (Nasal Saline Lavage or Irrigation) for Sinusitis
Mayo Clinic, June 24, Common cold in babies
Mayo Clinic, Feb. 27, Nasal congestion
Mayo Clinic, May 20, 2020, Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
American Academy of Pediatrics, accessed Dec. 28, SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Updated 2016 Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping Environment
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, accessed Dec. 28, Accidental Suffocation and Strangulation during Infant Sleep
Africa Check, April 21, 2020, No, putting onion near baby’s nose will not help them sleep better
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Onions don't cure congestion in babies