Sinus Infection When Pregnant: Types, Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

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The sinuses produce mucus that systematically drains into the nose to keep it clean and free of infections. Sinus infection while pregnant may occur when the inner lining of the sinuses or the nasal cavities become inflamed. This blocks the drainage passages, thus filling the sinuses with mucus. The most common manifestation of a sinus infection is nasal congestion leading to pain and breathing difficulty (1) (2).

Sinusitis or sinus infection is one of the most common complications of rhinitis and a frequent problem during pregnancy. Different factors make pregnant women more susceptible to sinusitis, with pregnancy hormones being primary (3). Read on to learn the causes, symptoms, and treatments of pregnancy sinusitis.

How Common Is A Sinus Infection While Pregnant?

Observational studies show around 20-40% occurrence rate of rhinitis and sinonasal problems in women of childbearing age and 10-30% exacerbation during pregnancy. The most common cause of sinonasal problems that require immediate medical attention is a bacterial infection or bacterial sinusitis (4).

What Are The Different Types Of Sinus Infections?

Sinusitis is divided into two types according to its severity and progression. They are (5):

  • Acute sinusitis: It is also called sinus infection or rhinosinusitis, a short-term inflammation of the sinuses. It can result from a common cold, bacterial infections, or viral infections in the upper respiratory tract.
  • Chronic sinusitis: Acute sinusitis takes the form of chronic rhinosinusitis when the inflammation continues for more than three months. This can be due to underlying conditions such as asthma, allergy, or nasal polyps.

What Causes A Sinus Infection During Pregnancy?

Some possible triggers of a sinus infection during pregnancy include:

  • Hormones: The different hormones released during pregnancy, namely, estrogen and progesterone, human growth hormone (HGH), and placental growth hormone (PGH), cause enlargement of the nasal mucous membranes, thus facilitating increased blood flow into the nasal passages. This further leads to swelling of the nasal veins causing congestion or worsening existing sinusitis (6) (7).
  • Infections: Although not specific to pregnancy, bacterial, viral, and fungal infections can be one of the contributing factors to sinusitis (1). Due to altered immunity, women may be more susceptible to such infections during pregnancy.
  • Allergies: Nasal congestion may also occur due to an allergic reaction, such as allergic rhinitis or other seasonal allergies.
  • Common cold: Stuffy nose is one of the common cold symptoms, and a pre-existing cold may increase the risk for sinusitis (8).

What Are The Symptoms Of Sinusitis?

Besides a stuffy and runny nose and difficulty in breathing, other commonly experienced symptoms of sinus infection are (5) (8):

  • Pain accompanied with pressure around the eyes and cheeks
  • Headache
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Postnasal drip (mucus dripping down the throat)
  • Bad breath
  • Sore throat and cough
  • Decreased sense of smell
  • Clogged ears lead to reduced hearing
  • Fatigue

Can Having a Sinus Infection When Pregnant Hurt the Baby?

Anecdotal evidence states that sinus infection does not cause complications for the baby. Infections during pregnancy, such as sinusitis, do not transmit to the baby because the placenta protects it by filtering out the toxic substances from the body.

When to Contact Your Doctor?

Acute sinusitis or sinus infection can last anywhere between seven and 14 days or as long as three months (5). This usually goes away with medications and home remedies. However, if you are experiencing the following symptoms given below, seek doctor’s help (3).

  • High fever
  • Change in the color of nasal mucus to yellow or green
  • Persistence of symptoms that do not subside with time or medication

How Is Sinusitis Diagnosed During Pregnancy?

Based on the symptoms, the doctor may carry out the following tests for diagnosis of sinusitis (9):

  • Allergy test: A skin test is carried out to rule out the possibility of an allergic reaction leading to nasal congestion. The allergy test may be carried out against animals, pollen dust, mites, etc.
  • Blood test: A blood test detects the body’s immune response towards commonly encountered allergens and checks the immunity strength of the person.
  • Nasal endoscopy: In this procedure, a flexible tube with a fiber-optic light is inserted into the nose to locate any nasal polyps or abnormalities.
  • CT scan: For a detailed image, a CT scan helps visualize the infections, or abnormalities, if any.

What Is The Treatment For Sinusitis During Pregnancy?

Treatment for sinus infection during pregnancy involves administration of medicines including (1) (3):

  • Antibiotics for acute sinusitis.
  • Acetaminophen, such as Tylenol to alleviate symptoms, such as pain and headaches.
  • Controlled amounts of antihistamines, expectorants, decongestants, and cough suppressants for treatment of respiratory tract infections.
  • Saline nasal rinses can help reduce the swelling.

Note: You should check with your healthcare provider before taking any medicine to avoid adverse outcomes.

How To Alleviate Sinus Congestion Naturally?

Some home remedies to alleviate congestion include (1) (3):

  • Hydration: Drinking plenty of water and fluids, such as citrus juice and broth, can boost your immunity and help clear the congestion.
  • Homemade saline drops: Besides the pharmaceutical saline drops, you can make saline drops at home by mixing 1/8tsp of salt and a pinch of baking soda in one cup of warm water.
  • Steam inhalation: Take a pan of hot boiling water and breath in the steam by covering your head with a towel. This will clear your stuffy nose and the mucus in your chest. You may also use a humidifier during the night.
  • Gargling: This will treat one of the most uncomfortable symptoms of sinusitis, sore throat. Dissolve a pinch of salt in a glass of warm water and gargle the solution. Honey and lemon are also effective in treating a sore throat.
  • Sleep: Sleeping position is also an influencing factor. If you sleep with your head slightly elevated by placing extra pillows under your head, you may find it easier to breathe. Also, good sleep is believed to improve immunity. Nasal strips may help open up the nasal passage.
  • Avoid allergens: Since sinusitis can also result from an allergic reaction, it is advisable to avoid common allergens. You may talk to your doctor and ask for pregnancy-safe antihistamines.
  • Maintain a healthy diet: A nutritious healthy diet with fruits and vegetables can help boost your immunity.

Sinusitis during pregnancy may be common, but this does not take away from it being equally uncomfortable. Talk with your healthcare provider about the treatment options and try some home remedies to alleviate the symptoms and ease of discomfort.

References:

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Dr. Mona Hardas

(MD)
Dr. Mona Hardas is a practicing Ob/Gyn from Flint, Michigan, with over 20 years of experience in private practice. She is also actively involved in teaching medical students and residents as an associate clinical professor from MSU College of Human Medicine.  Dr. Hardas is interested in minimally invasive gynecology procedures, including laparoscopic hysterectomy, myomectomy, removal of adnexal masses, etc. Having... more

Aneesha Amonz

Aneesha holds a Bachelor's degree in Biotechnology from USTM, Meghalaya and Master’s degree in Applied Microbiology from VIT, Vellore. She has worked on different research projects in the field of Food Sciences. In addition, she has an internship experience in Oil India Limited as an R&D project trainee. As a writer at MomJunction, Aneesha ensures her content is engaging and... more