Sinus Infection In Babies: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment And Prevention

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Stuffy nose is a common symptom of the common cold, flu, and sinusitis (1). In both, the common cold and sinusitis, the tissue lining of the nasal cavity and sinus get swollen due to inflammation of the blood vessels, post-infection (2) (3).

The difference between the two, however, can be determined based on the duration of the symptoms. For the common cold, the congestion leading to stuffy nose resolves within a week or ten days. In the case of sinusitis, the symptoms may last for up to 12 weeks or longer (4).

In this post, MomJunction tells you about the probable causes, symptoms, treatment, and methods of prevention for sinusitis in babies.

What Is Sinus Infection?

Sinuses are small air spaces in the bones around the nose. Four sets of hollow spaces are located in the cheekbones, forehead, on the sides of the nose bridge, and behind nasal passages in front of the brain.

Sinuses in the cheekbones are called maxillary sinus, forehead – frontal sinus, behind nasal passages – ethmoid sinuses, and deep in the brain – sphenoid sinus.

The infection attacks these air spaces in the bones, and sometimes they are swollen. In simple terms, sinusitis is an inflammation of the lining of the nose and sinuses. The mucous membranes that line the mouth and the nose also line the sinuses (5).

Sinusitis is an inflammation of the sinus due to viral or bacterial infections (6). Depending on the duration for which the symptoms stay, it can be categorized into the following types (7):

  • Acute: Acute sinusitis is a condition where the symptoms last less than four weeks and improve with treatment.
  • Sub-acute: The symptoms last four to eight weeks and do not subside with initial treatment.
  • Chronic: This is a condition of repeated acute sinusitis or previous infections, which were inadequately treated. The symptoms last more than eight weeks.
  • Recurrent: As the name suggests, recurrent is a condition where acute sinusitis repeats three or more times a year. You should consult an otolaryngologist (an ear, nose, and throat specialist) in this case.

So, if you suspect that your baby is suffering from sinusitis, it is wise to consult a pediatrician promptly. This helps in determining the causes correctly and deciding the treatment.

Symptoms Of Sinus Infection

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, cold symptoms such as nasal discharge and a cough that lasts more than ten days without any improvement, indicate a sinus infection (8).

Check for the following symptoms of sinus infection in babies:

  1. Nasal congestion or cold that lasts for more than ten to 14 days.
  2. Green-yellow discharge from the nose for more than four days.
  3. A bad cough in the daytime that becomes worse at night.
  4. Swelling around nose and eyes.
  5. Dark circles around the eyes.
  6. Irritability
  7. Post-nasal drip seen as a cough, sore throat, vomiting, nausea, and bad breath.
  8. Low-grade fever for at least four days in a row.

Note: A low-grade fever is a body temperature above 100.4°F or 38°C and below 103°F or 39.4°C.

In rare cases, a bacterial sinus infection could spread to the central nervous system (CNS) or the eye, showing symptoms such as:

  • Increasing irritability
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Swelling and/or redness around the eyes
  • Sensitivity to light

Keep a check on your baby’s symptoms and do not delay in consulting a pediatrician. In case your baby has been suffering from chronic sinusitis, immediate medical intervention is warranted. Chronic sinusitis can significantly impact the quality of life.

Causes For Sinus Infection In Babies

Sinus infection is generally seen after a cold, an allergic inflammation, or upper respiratory infection (URI). However, Mayo Clinic’s Allergic Diseases Research Laboratory researcher, Dr. David Sherris, says that the cause of chronic sinusitis has not been known so far.

“Our studies indicate that fungus is likely the cause of nearly all of these problems. And it is not an allergic reaction, but an immune reaction,” Dr. Sherries adds.

According to her team, the primary cause of chronic sinusitis is the reaction of the immune system to fungi. The researchers studied 210 patients and found 40 different kinds of fungi in their mucus (9).

  1. The URI causes nasal passage inflammation that blocks the opening of the paranasal sinuses, eventually leading to an infection. Viral sinusitis accompanies cold. However, sinusitis can also happen due to bacterial infections. The most common bacteria that cause acute sinusitis are (4):
  • Streptococcus pneumonia
  • Haemophilus influenzae
  • Moraxella catarrhalis
  1. Allergies also lead to sinusitis as they increase mucus production and cause the nasal tissue to swell (10). Allergic sinusitis accompanies allergies, such as hay fever.
  1. Other possible conditions that could block the sinuses are:
  • Abnormalities in the nose structure
  • Cleft palate
  • Diving and swimming
  • Enlarged adenoids
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Tooth infections
  • Trauma to the nose
  • Secondhand smoking
  • Foreign objects stuck in the nose

Pediatric sinusitis cannot be diagnosed easily at home as the symptoms are general and often overlap with the symptoms of common cold and allergy. Thus, to get the right diagnosis, prompt pediatric consultation is necessary.

How To Diagnose Sinusitis In Babies?

Many parents, and in some cases, even the doctor may misdiagnose a sinus infection. A runny nose with green mucus might not be a sign of sinusitis. It could be a common cold, which does not need specific treatment.

An ENT specialist will thoroughly examine the nose, throat, and ears of the baby and ask you about the history of such attacks, to diagnose the medical condition. Additional tests done to diagnose sinusitis are mentioned next (11).

  • A computed tomographic (CT) scan helps in determining the development of the baby’s sinuses and blockage if any. The diagnostic imaging procedure combines X-ray and computer technology to produce axial or vertical images of the body.
  • Sinus X-rays use invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs.
  • Cultures from the sinuses are collected and grown in the lab conditions to diagnose the infection.

Once the diagnosis is made, your doctor will prescribe the treatment accordingly. Most often, the treatment would be simple.

How Will The Doctor Treat Sinusitis?

After the doctor confirms the sinusitis infection in your baby, they may suggest the following treatments (12).

  1. Nasal sprays: Saline nasal sprays may provide temporary relief from stuffiness. Saltwater or nasal drops help in thinning secretions and improving the functioning of the mucous membrane. Saline drops can be made at home. Add one-fourth teaspoon salt to an eight-ounce cup of warm water and mix well. Flush each nostril with the saline solution at least four times a day.

If your baby’s nose still seems to be stuffed and is causing discomfort, other alternatives like nasal aspirator or nasal bulb syringe to clean the baby’s nose could also be tried under pediatric consultation.

  1. Antibiotic treatment: If your baby has bacterial sinus, you may need to give antibiotics for at least ten days, and for a maximum of 21 days. For a baby with acute sinusitis, symptoms should improve within the initial days of treatment. Complete the antibiotic treatment even if the baby’s condition improves.

Note: Do not give antihistamines and over-the-counter decongestants to babies less than two years old (13).

  1. Surgical treatment: The baby may have to undergo surgery if sinusitis symptoms persist in spite of medical therapy.

Endoscopic sinus surgery is an option for severe sinus infection. It is a functional surgery that involves the doctor opening the natural drainage pathway of the baby’s sinuses to make it wider. Opening up the sinuses allows air circulation that eventually results in the reduced number of sinus infections (14).

In some other severe cases, surgical treatment may involve the removal of adenoid tissue from behind the nose. The adenoid tissue may not directly block the sinuses, but its infection, called adenoiditis, causes symptoms similar to sinusitis (15).

Babies with sinus infection become cranky as they would find it difficult to breathe. It could be an extremely difficult situation not only for the baby but also for the parents. So, it is good to try and prevent the attack rather than focusing on the treatment.

How To Prevent The Risk Of Sinusitis In Babies?

For sinusitis, prevention is not easy, yet a few steps could help keep your baby safe (16).

  • Keep your baby away from known allergens.
  • Minimize their exposure to pollutants, such as tobacco smoke.
  • Reduce the baby’s daycare time.
  • Treat the stomach acid reflux disease if found in your baby.
  • Keep the atmosphere in your baby’s room moist. It stops cold from worsening.
  • Get the best treatment for allergies, if any.
  • Keep your home clean and clear of dust and smoke.
  • Use a humidifier to maintain the humidity of the room at 45% to 50%.
  • Allow fresh air to enter the house.
  • Maintain hygiene to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Next, we address a few commonly asked questions about sinusitis in babies.

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. Is a sinus infection contagious in babies?

The sinusitis itself is not contagious, but the cold that accompanies the infection can spread to others.

2. Can sinus infections lead to serious health issues or complications?

Serious complications are rare. However, an untreated sinus infection can spread to other areas in the skull.

  • The sinuses around the eye and the brain are separated by just a thin membrane. So, if the infection spreads to the passages around the eye, it could also penetrate through the membrane of the brain, causing meningitis.
  • Infection in the bones is called osteomyelitis.
  • Infection in the tissues surrounding the eyes is called orbital cellulitis.

In a nutshell, sinusitis infection is common in babies. Once infected, they could become restless and cry incessantly. However, prompt medical care would help provide some relief. As babies are prone to such infections, a parent should aim at prevention first.

Do you have more information about sinusitis in infants? Do share with us or write your comments below.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Stuffy or runny nose – adult; U.S National Library of Medicine
2. Common Cold; University of Rochester
3. Sinusitis; U.S National Library of Medicine
4. Sinusitis in Children; Stanford Children’s Health
5. Sinus Infection; American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology
6. The Difference Between Sinusitis and a Cold; Healthy Children; American Academy of Pediatrics
7. Sinusitis; Medline Plus
8. Pediatric Sinusitis; American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery Foundation
9. Mayo Clinic Study Implicates Fungus As Cause Of Chronic Sinusitis; Science Daily
10. Allergic Sinusitis; Cedars Sinai
11. Sinusitis; NHS
12. What to do about sinusitis; Harvard Medical School
13. Use Caution When Giving Cough and Cold Products to Kids; USFDA
14. Functional Endoscopic Sinus Surgery (FESS); Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
15. Adenoid removal; U.S National Library of Medicine
16. Sinusitis in Children; University of Rochester

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Dr. Ritika Shah

Dr. Ritika Shah is a dental surgeon with more than seven years of clinical experience across various cities in India. During her clinical practice, pediatric dentistry was her particular area of interest, and she constantly thrived to inculcate the latest advancements in the field of dentistry into her practice. Dr. Shah's deep interest in the well-being of babies and children... more