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What is an Aspirator?

By Aniza Pourtauborde
Updated Jan 23, 2024
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An aspirator is a small suction tool used to extract secretions, such as fluids or mucus, from a cavity. One of the most common such tools used in medical treatments is the nasal aspirator. As the name indicates, it is used to relieve nasal passages that are blocked due to the buildup of mucus.

Accumulation of mucus in the nose is a very common occurrence, especially in infants and young children. There are many possible causes for this condition, among which are a cold, an allergic reaction, an infection, and teething. While nasal congestion results in discomfort for adults, it can become fatal for infants and very young children. This is because they do not yet know how to clear out the mucus by blowing their own noses.

Infants are especially fragile, because they automatically breathe through their noses. Hence, a stuffy nose for them could lead to potential respiratory problems. Another dangerous consequence of a blocked nose is the spread of infection to other parts of the body, such as the ears, throat, and lungs. When not cleaned and treated properly, what began as a simple runny nose could end up becoming a serious medical problem.

It is for this reason that the nasal aspirator is an indispensable medical tool, especially for parents who have infants or very young children at home. There are three types: bulb, battery-powered, and self-suction.

The bulb aspirator resembles a light bulb and has a fine, holed tip at the end. It is usually made of rubber and fits neatly into the palm of a hand. It works through manual pumping by pressing a thumb deep into the bulbous portion, placing the fine tip into the congested nostril and then releasing the thumb. Doing this creates a sucking motion, which helps vacuum the mucus out of the nostril.

While the bulb aspirator is very user-friendly, the suction it creates is often insufficient to remove the mucus completely. Furthermore, since the bulb is normally produced in color, the user is unable to see the amount of mucus pumped out. Due to these reasons, several attempts are usually required before the nose is properly cleaned out.

The battery-powered aspirator is a handheld device that has a fitted silicone tip. To use this aspirator, the user only has to put the tip into the nose and press a switch. While it may seem convenient to use, it probably does not have sufficient suction power to extract mucus that is located deep within the nasal passages. In addition, the whirring noise of the device in motion may frighten the infant or child.

The common self-suction aspirator is made up of three parts: a tiny, holed silicone tip on one end, a receptacle in the middle, and a long tube on the other end. When assembled, the user places the tip into the blocked nostril while taking quick deep breaths through the long tube, producing high-velocity suction that extracts and collects the mucus in the receptacle. This type of aspirator depends on the user's lung capacity; the deeper and quicker he breathes in, the more mucus is sucked out and the faster the nose is cleaned.

The right nasal aspirator to have depends on each household's personal preference. Some users are uncomfortable with the self-suction aspirator because of their fear of hurting their child during the process. Others prefer the bulb and battery-powered aspirators because they assure a safe and hygienic method of extracting mucus. Whichever choice the user makes, any of these tools can help relieve a snotty emergency.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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