Sinusitis (Sinus Infection) in Babies: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Sinusitis in Babies

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Gunjan Baweja (Paediatrician)
View more Paediatrician Our Panel of Experts

Your toddler may be playing away in his own world and living a carefree style, oblivious that his cold is getting worse despite the medications you give him. If this is the case and you’re worried sick, it’s probably a case of sinusitis.

A common myth is that sinusitis affects just adults. A child’s immune system is vulnerable. This increases the chances of them catching infections, including the sinusitis. A cold can be accompanied by sinusitis, which is what happens in the case of babies. Here is everything you need to know about it.

What Is Sinus Infection?

Every human has four sets of air spaces between the bones located in the nostrils. These are known as the maxillary sinusitis, ethmoid sinusitis, frontal sinusitis and sphenoid sinusitis. The maxillary sinusitis is located near the cheekbones, the ethmoid sinusitis is around the back of the nose, the frontal sinusitis is around the forehead, and the sphenoid sinusitis is embedded deeply behind the nostrils.

When these spaces (or cavities) get inflamed due to infections caused by foreign substances or bacteria, it results in sinusitis infection in babies.

Types of Sinusitis

There are mainly four different types of sinusitis in babies.

1. Acute Sinusitis

Acute sinusitis lasts for generally four weeks or less and goes away with the appropriate medications and treatment.

2. Sub-Acute Sinusitis

Sub-acute sinusitis is a little tricky since it doesn’t go away quickly despite the use of medications. This lasts for four to eight weeks.

3. Chronic Sinusitis

If your child has had previous cases of sinusitis or similar infections and is facing another bout of sinusitis, then it’s what you refer to as a ‘Chronic Sinusitis.’ Chronic Sinusitis happens when previous infections are not fully treated.

4. Recurrent Sinusitis

When acute sinusitis occurs three or more times throughout the year, it is known as recurrent sinusitis. A visit to an ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) specialist is recommended for it.

What Is Bacterial Sinusitis

Bacterial sinusitis is sinusitis caused by bacteria being trapped in the sinuses. It’s a secondary infection, and the most common types of it are Streptococcus pneumonia, Haemophilus influenza, and Moraxella catarrhalis.

Here’s what you have to know about it:

  • Accompanies colds and symptoms last for more than 10 days.
  • Fever spans for 3 to 4 days in a row.
  • A major headache around the eyes which gets worse gradually.
  • Thick-yellow nasal discharge.
  • Increased sensitivity to light.
  • Redness around the eyes all day long.
  • Irritability.

Bacterial sinusitis usually requires Computed Tomographic Scans (CT Scans) to confirm the diagnosis and requires antibiotics for treatment.

What Is Bacterial Sinusitis

What Are the Causes of Sinus Infection in Babies

According to Dr David Sherris, Mayo Clinic Allergic Diseases Research Laboratory researcher, at present, there are no specific causes for sinus infections in babies beside Upper Respiratory Tract Infections (URTI). It is believed that sinusitis usually progresses from cold and allergies. Some possible causes of sinus infections in babies are:

  • Exposure to someone who already is experiencing a sinus infection
  • Staying outdoors too long and being exposed to germs, dust, and dirt
  • Being exposed to smoke and environmental pollutants
  • Lack of regular vaccinations
  • Malnutrition or poor diet
  • Poor hygiene
  • Dehydration
  • Tooth infections
  • Cleft palate
  • Structural abnormalities or trauma to the nostrils
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
  • Enlarged adenoids
  • Unclean air

Symptoms of Sinusitis in Infants

Symptoms of sinusitis in infants are –

  • Cold lasting more than 2 weeks
  • Green-yellow discharge from nostrils for more than four days (maybe thick or clear)
  • A daytime cough which worsens into the night
  • Dark circles around the eyes
  • Swollen nostrils and eyes
  • Irritation
  • Mild fever that lasts for four days in a row
  • Bad breath
  • A sore throat
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea

Diagnosis and Tests

Diagnosis and common medical tests available for sinusitis are-

  • Computed Tomographic Scans (CT Scans) – This determines its development and scans for possible blockages. A combination of X-rays and computer technology is used for rendering axial and vertical images of the baby’s body.
  • Sinus X-rays – Invisible electromagnetic energy beams render images of internal organs, including the sinuses.
  • Sinus Cultures – This is collected at the clinic and grown in a laboratory facility over a period of time to diagnose the condition.

Treatment of Sinusitis in Babies

Your doctor will evaluate your child’s overall health, family medical history, the child’s age and the type of sinusitis infection diagnosed.

After the doctor confirms the type of infection your baby is affected with, he may recommend the following treatment options –

1. Nasal Sprays

Salt-water drips and nasal drops are pretty useful in treating sinus infection in babies. Nasal sprays aid in reducing stuffiness and decongest the nostrils. You can make saline drops at home by mixing salt with warm water. Make sure to flush both the nostrils a minimum of four times every day.

Are you facing a difficult time getting your baby to take nasal sprays or drops? You may consider using “boogie” wipes infused with the solution to prevent soreness in the nostrils. You may also use a ‘bulb syringe’ if your baby is unable to blow his/her nose.

Nasal Sprays

2. Antibiotics

Antibiotics are also prescribed to treat sinus infections, especially bacterial sinusitis that lasts between 10 to 21 days. You’re expected to continue treatment with antibiotics even if your baby seems cured.

Medications used in antibiotic therapies for sinusitis in babies are amoxicillin, second-or-third generation cephalosporin, macrolide and clindamycin. Chronic sinusitis is usually treated with a broad-spectrum beta-lactam stable antibiotic administration over a period of four days. However, it’s always best to ask your doctor or paediatrician regarding what antibiotics to use based on your child’s diagnosis and condition.


Acetaminophen may be administered for pain relief while decongestants may also be recommended alongside antibiotic medications. Antihistamines won’t work if your child has allergy symptoms accompanying the sinusitis.

3. Surgical Procedures

When the medications don’t seem to work, your doctor may recommend a surgical procedure as a final resort to treat sinusitis in your baby. The adenoid glands may be removed from the back of the nose since it causes symptoms similar to sinus infections.

Endoscopic sinus surgery, which is a procedure used to drain the sinus pathways to open them up, may also be recommended. The procedure allows air to enter and the mucus to drain away.

How to Reduce Risk of Infant Sinus Infection

Glad you asked! Prevention is always better than cure where sinusitis is concerned, and there are ways to reduce the risk of infant sinus infections. Here are some of them:

  • Make your baby spend less time at the daycare.
  • Avoid smoking and exposing your baby to tobacco and environmental pollutants.
  • Use a high-quality air humidifier at home and set it between 45% to 50%.
  • Make sure your baby drinks fluids and stays hydrated.
  • Clean the filters of air humidifiers regularly.
  • Treat any allergies associated with your baby’s sinusitis.
  • Distance your baby away from people who have sinusitis.
  • Make sure the rooms in your home are properly ventilated.
  • Allow plenty of fresh air indoors.
  • Maintain proper hygiene to prevent complications and outbreaks.

How to Reduce Risk of Infant Sinus Infection


As parents, we’re sure you’ll have concerns regarding your child’s wellbeing. We’ve compiled a list of the most frequently asked questions regarding sinusitis.

1. Is sinus infection contagious in babies?

Sinus infections are contagious in babies as long as they accompany a cold. This is because your baby’s immune system hasn’t yet fully developed and may be prone to infections and foreign substances which cause them in the first place. When it comes with a cold, it may spread to others and vice versa.

2. Can sinusitis in babies lead to serious health issues?

Sinusitis may lead to serious health problems in babies if left untreated. Here is a list of what’s possible:

  • May cause secondary infections that penetrate through the eyes and brains and develop into meningitis.
  • May lead to osteomyelitis or inflammation of the bones.
  • May lead to inflammation of eye tissues which is referred to as orbital cellulitis.

Treating sinusitis in babies is no magic. It takes time, care and lots of love, too.

Baby steps lead to a path of prevention. If you are unable to do this, then you need to spot the symptoms and halt sinusitis at its root instead of treating it at the last minute. If you suspect your baby has sinusitis and exhibits any of the above symptoms, then take him to the doctor or paediatrician immediately. Sinusitis complications are rare. However, it’s best not to take any risks where your baby’s health and well-being are concerned.

Also Read: Nasal Congestion in Babies

Previous article «
Next article »