Sinus development and Infection in Babies

Does You Baby Have a Cold or Sinus Infection?

A baby crying and leaning on her mother's shoulder
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Q. My 5 month old was just diagnosed with a sinus infection and put on antibiotics, but my friends all tell me that my baby doesn't even have sinuses yet. Does she?

A. It is a common misunderstanding that infants do not have sinuses.

In fact, babies are born with sinuses, but they are just not very well developed. Newborns have very small maxillary (under your cheeks) and ethmoid sinuses (between your eyes), but they can't be seen on regular X-rays until a child is 1-2 years old.

The frontal sinuses (which often contribute to typical adult sinus headaches) and sphenoid sinuses don't begin to develop until a child's second year and can't be seen on an X-ray until the child is 5-6 years old. The sinuses continue to grow until your child is a teenager.

What Determines Whether Its a Sinus Infection?

If it has been for more than 10-14 days, then she may very well have a sinus infection. But whether or not she could have a sinus infection is controversial. Most likely, even if she has a green or yellow runny nose for several weeks, instead of a real sinus infection, it would be more appropriate to just call it purulent rhinitis. If it was lingering and getting worse, your doctor would still recommend antibiotic treatment though.

Once on antibiotics, your babies symptoms should start to go away within 2-3 days. Be sure to continue with the full course of your child's medication, as the infection can return if the antibiotics are stopped early.

If your baby does not improve in health within 2-3 days, then be sure to alert your pediatrician. Your baby might need a different type or dosage of antibiotics.

For a small percentage of children, surgery may be the only option for severe or persistent sinusitis symptoms. If all modes of medical therapy fail, then surgical therapy by a trained Otorhinolaryngologist (ENT surgeon) can be a safe and effective method of treatment.

Common Symptoms Your Baby May Have

Young kids and babies are often more prone to nose, sinus and ear infections. The usual culprit is a viral infection (colds) or even an allergy. If it has only been 5-7 days of sickness, then your baby may just have a cold.

A sinus infection is accompanied by several symptoms, including:

  • cold” symptoms (runny nose, cough) that last more than 10-14 days
  • a fever (sometimes)
  • thick green or yellow nasal mucous
  • sore throat, cough, bad breath, nausea and/or vomiting (which may be a result of or a sign of post-nasal drip)
  • headache (most often in kids over the age of six)
  • fatigue 
  • irritability
  • •swollen face or eyes

Remember, if your child could have all of these symptoms, but if they last less than 10 days, it's probable that it's just a cold. 

You can cut the chances of a sinus infection by reducing your child's exposure to environmental allergens and pollutants such as tobacco smoke, dust, and chemical solvents. Also reducing the time spent at day care, and treating stomach acid reflux disease are ways that you can reduce the risk of sinus infections.

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