Sinus infections often develop as a complication from the common cold. Learn what red flags to look for and how to best manage symptoms.
With two children under the age of 10, I’ve encountered my fair share of respiratory illnesses. Sinusitis, or sinus infection, is one of the most frustrating to deal with. The sensation of fullness, coupled with facial pain and nasal congestion, made my kids feel miserable and made me feel powerless as I couldn’t take away their discomfort.
Sinusitis is an inflammation of the sinuses that develops when the cavities around the nasal passages become inflamed, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology.
While I was able to manage my children’s symptoms with pain medications and nasal decongestants prescribed by a pediatrician, some babies don’t respond well to certain medications. Even with treatment, a sinus infection can linger for days or even weeks.
“Often, children may not seem very sick when they have a sinus infection,” says American pediatrician Dr. William Sears. “But as a general rule, if a child has had a cold for more than 10 days, seems less energetic, or looks drawn, you should call the doctor – even if you don’t see signs of a sinus infection.”
What the Experts Say
When a baby develops the common cold, the linings of the sinus cavities swell. Most of the time, the swelling subsides and the baby recovers from the cold. When the swelling persists, it can prevent the sinuses from draining properly. The sinuses then fill up with fluid and bacteria grow, causing an infection.
Parents can help reduce the length and seriousness of their baby’s illness by recognizing the signs of a sinus infection and acting quickly to provide treatment. Here’s what some experts have to say about sinus infections in babies and how to best deal with sinusitis:
“If your child develops a fever several days into a cold, or if her cold seems to be getting worse rather than better after ten days, your doctor may want to check to see whether a sinus infection has developed.”
Donna Finando, Acupoint and Trigger Point Therapy for Babies and Children
“Babies are particularly susceptible to infections because the Eustachian tube is short and horizontal. If fluids build up in the middle ear (usually from a sinus or respiratory infection), bacteria can grow and create an infection.”
Joanne Bagshaw, Illene Fox, Baby Massage for Dummies
“See if your child has any nasal discharge. Clear or whitish discharge may be from a cold or allergy, whereas yellowish or greenish discharge results from upper respiratory and sinus infections.”
Aviva Jill Romm, M.D., Jill Aviva Romm, Naturally Healthy Babies and Children
“Keep in mind that ear infections tend to strike after a common cold or sinus infection. You might also notice the following symptoms: your baby pulls, grabs, or tugs at her ears, diarrhea, loss of appetite, or a yellowish or whitish fluid draining from the ear.”
Ronald J. Parker, The ABC of Child Care
How to Tell If Your Baby Has a Sinus Infection
Many parents have difficulty differentiating between a sinus infection and the common cold. Viral colds last an average of 5 to 10 days, often starting with a clear, watery nasal discharge that may become thicker after several days. If there is a fever, it’s usually low-grade and lasts just one to two days.
Bacterial sinus infections may also present with cold symptoms, such as a daytime cough and nasal discharge. Babies may also have thick yellow discharge and a fever that lasts three to four consecutive days.
Other symptoms include dark circles and swelling around the eyes and persistent bad breath. Unlike a cold that improves within 7 to 10 days, sinus infections often last more than 10 days without improvement.
If you suspect that your baby may have a sinus infection or if she has had cold symptoms for more than 10 days, consult with a pediatrician. If a sinus infection is discovered, your baby may need to take antibiotics for two to three weeks. If symptoms improve but then reoccur, a different antibiotic may be needed.
In the meantime, take the proper precautions to prevent reoccurring bouts of sinusitis. Moisture is needed to keep your baby’s secretions and sinus linings thin. If your little one has a cold, provide plenty of fluids and keep your home environment moist. Also keep your baby away from known allergens, such as dust, pet dander, and cigarette smoke, which can irritate the sinus cavities and contribute to symptoms.
It’s never easy to watch your child suffer from sinusitis. Fortunately, you have the power to treat existing infections and help prevent future illnesses. Under the care of you and a doctor, your little one has the best chance of a fast recovery.