Sinus Development and Infection in Babies

Does Your Baby Have a Cold or Sinus Infection?

Mucus coming out of a baby's nose
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While many people don't realize it, babies are born with sinuses, however, they are not very well developed. Newborns have very small maxillary (under your cheeks) and ethmoid sinuses (between your eyes), but these 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 or 6 years old.

The sinuses continue to grow until your child is a teenager.

What Determines Whether a Sinus Is Infected?

Just like the sinuses of adults, those of a baby or young child can become infected. If your infant or child has been sick for more than 10 to 14 days, a sinus infection could be the culprit. However, sinus infections are one of the most overly diagnosed conditions in U.S. healthcare, and even if she has some of the typical signs of a sinus infection, the illness could be viral. In this case, it would not respond to treatment with antibiotics. If it was lingering and getting worse, your doctor would still recommend antibiotic treatment though.

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 the acid reflux disease can help in some circumstances.

Common Symptoms Your Baby May Have

Young kids and babies are often more prone to nose, sinus and ear infections. The usual cause is a viral infection (colds) or even an allergy that allow mucus to stagnate and foster bacteria. If it has been less than 10 days of sickness, then your baby may just have a cold.

A cold that doesn't start to improve during this amount of time, or is followed by worsening symptoms, could be a sinus infection. 

A sinus infection is accompanied by several symptoms, including:

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

Remember, even if your child has all of these symptoms, if they last less than 10 days, it's most likely a viral infection. However, it is always a good idea to see your pediatrician when you have questions or concerns about your child's health. 

Sources:

  • U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. April 3, 2012. 
  • Leung RS, Katial R (March 2008). "The diagnosis and management of acute and chronic sinusitis". Primary care35 (1): 11–24, v–vi.

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