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General Health and Preventive Care  /  Blog

Sinus Infection While Pregnant: When to Call a Doctor

Jillian Stenzel

Written by Jillian Stenzel

Jillian Stenzel

Jillian Stenzel

A Nevada-bred traveler & food nerd who dances & eats spinach, sometimes simultaneously. She writes from wherever her curiosity demands, and is passionate about spreading the wisdom of better health.

March 29, 2021 / Read Time 7 minutes

Sinus Infection While Pregnant

Pregnancy comes with its own set of challenges that can make dealing with a sinus infection much harder than normal. For one, you are more likely to get sick, as pregnancy suppresses the immune system. 

These natural changes in immunity exist to strike a balance between the mother’s health and to protect the baby from disease. Additionally, certain parts of the immune system are suppressed to prevent the body from rejecting the fetus as something foreign.

While these are all natural functions, they unfortunately make sinusitis a pervasive threat, particularly for those who have been susceptible to infections in the past. Additionally, several conventional sinusitis treatments are unsafe for pregnant women, so it is important to know what you can and cannot use to treat your sinus infection while pregnant.

The good news is that, despite these challenges, a sinus infection will most likely not affect your unborn child. The first step is to determine whether or not you have sinusitis.

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    See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

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What Is a Sinus Infection?

Sinus infections are a type of infection that occurs when the nasal cavities become inflamed, swollen, and infected. While viruses are the most common cause of sinusitis, sinus infection causes also include bacteria and fungi.

Sinusitis is classified based on its duration and cause. The two types of sinus infection include:

  • Acute sinusitis is a temporary inflammation of the sinuses, and most often follows a cold or allergies. With a compromised immune system, women may develop new allergies and get sick more often during pregnancy. During a bout of acute sinusitis, swelling blocks the sinus openings and prevents normal mucus drainage. This causes mucus and pressure to build up. Symptoms usually worsen, then peak and disappear.

  • Chronic sinusitis occurs when the symptoms of sinusitis last anywhere from a few weeks to several months. Unlike acute sinusitis, symptoms may come and go and vary in intensity. Continued symptoms will strain the immune system, which is important to avoid if you’re pregnant and the immune system is weak as it is. 

A combination of antibiotics, antihistamines, and decongestants is used to fight chronic sinusitis, although many of these medications may not be safe if you are pregnant. According to Robyn Horsager-Boehrer, M.D. at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, “pregnant women should avoid taking unnecessary drugs during pregnancy.”

Among those experiencing a sinus infection while pregnant, first-trimester moms should opt out of medication whenever possible to protect their baby. Thankfully, certain natural remedies are helpful and safe to use.

Symptoms of a Sinus Infection During Pregnancy

While sinusitis symptoms differ from person to person based on the severity of the infection, most people will experience the same general suite of symptoms. 

Symptoms of a sinus infection while pregnant include:

  • Aches and pains – The most obvious and common symptoms, aches and pains in any part of the sinuses, are caused by inflammation and swelling, which create a dull pressure that seems to push against your face. This includes pain in your forehead, between your eyes, in your teeth and upper jaw, and on both sides of your nose. This also causes visible swelling around the face and facial tenderness.

  • Headaches – The excess pressure, blocked air passages, and swelling associated with sinus infections can lead to headaches. These are usually at their most severe in the morning, as the fluids build inside your sinuses during the night. Your headache can also grow worse with sudden dramatic changes in weather. Due to added pressure around the nerves and tissue surrounding the sinuses, you may also suffer from toothaches, earaches, and general pain in your cheeks and jaw.

  • Fever – Common to any infection, a higher body temperature is one of your body’s natural defense mechanisms against invading bacteria, viruses, and other foreign bodies.

  • Sinus discharge – Sinus infections often result in a greenish-yellow discharge leaking from your nose, forcing you to blow your nose more often. In some sinus infections, the discharge may bypass your nose entirely and be rerouted to the back of your throat. This may cause an itch or tickle in your throat and is commonly known as a post-nasal drip. During the day, you may find yourself clearing your throat more often, and at night and immediately after you wake up, you may find yourself coughing more. A post-nasal drip can also make your voice sound hoarse.

  • Congestion – With a sinus infection, you may find yourself breathing out of your mouth more often. Blockage and inflammation in your sinuses can keep you from breathing properly out of your nose, which can also affect your ability to smell or taste normally. You may also sound more stuffed up when you talk.

  • Cough – As the discharge builds up, it will work its way down the back of your throat, which leads to irritation. Over a long period of time, this irritation can become worse, leading to persistent coughing which only gets worse when you lie down to sleep. You may want to prop yourself up while you sleep to avoid coughing.

  • Sore throat – The irritation caused by postnasal drip will also present itself in the form of a sore throat. While it can start as a mere tickling sensation, your sore throat can become worse as the mucus further irritates and inflames the lining, leading to increased soreness and a scratchy voice.

  • Ulceration – Ulceration is possible in sinus infections caused by a fungus. These ulcers appear around the nasal area with a dark necrotic center and sharply defined edges.

Can Having a Sinus Infection While Pregnant Hurt the Baby?

Can a sinus infection cause miscarriage? On its own, a sinus infection while pregnant is not likely to harm your unborn baby. However, in rare cases, the symptoms of a sinus infection can lead to complications during pregnancy. Pregnancy can also worsen the severity of sinus infection symptoms.

While sinusitis can be more common during pregnancy due to a suppressed immune system, it is difficult to distinguish between an actual infection and pregnancy-related congestion.

Pregnancy hormones increase circulation to all of the blood vessels and membranes in the body, causing them to swell. This includes the mucous membranes in your nose. Such swelling leads to nasal congestion, and sometimes even postnasal drip. Unfortunately, this may last the length of your pregnancy and worsen toward the end. Experiencing a sinus infection while pregnant can further worsen the swelling. 

It is important to stay vigilant and notice if your symptoms worsen, as this is a sign that you are suffering from more than pregnancy-related congestion symptoms.

What Can You Take for a Sinus Infection While Pregnant?

Instead of turning to quick fixes, it is important to learn what medications are safe. If your infection is bacterial, talk to a doctor to find out which antibiotics are safe to take during pregnancy to prevent your infection from getting worse and causing complications. Otherwise, try some of these safe and natural methods:

  • Keep the air moist – Use a humidifier in your room while you sleep at night. This will keep your nasal passages moist and expedite healing.

  • Saline irrigation – Try using a neti pot to irrigate your sinus passages with a saline solution. If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of sinus irrigation, try a saline solution nasal spray. You could also try gargling warm salt water to help fight infection.

  • Blow carefully – To avoid damaging delicate mucus membranes, make sure you are not blowing your nose too aggressively. Try using your thumb to cover one nostril and blowing small, gentle, quick bursts of air out of the other side until the passage is clear.

  • Elevate your head - Sleeping propped up under a few pillows at night to prevent the postnasal drip and coughing may help relieve symptoms and allow you to sleep better.

  • Use a vapor rub – You can use store-bought VapoRub or make your own using a combination of beeswax and essential oils, but be sure to only use oils that are safe during pregnancy. Thyme and rosemary oil should be avoided, while eucalyptus and tea tree oil are safe and can help alleviate sinus infections symptoms.

  • Make your nutrients count – Appetite can be hit hard by both pregnancy and infection. When you do eat, choose as many nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables as possible. Try spreading out small meals throughout the day to make it easier to eat.

  1. 1

    Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  2. 2

    See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  3. 3

    Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.

How to Boost Your Immune System While Pregnant

If you suffer from recurrent infections or find yourself pregnant during cold and flu season, it is a good idea to find out how you can safely boost your immune system. Two ways to safely strengthen your immune system during pregnancy include:

  • Vitamin D – If you cannot expose at least your arms and legs to direct sunlight for 15 minutes a day, consider adding vitamin D to your supplements to avoid a potential deficiency. This vitamin is integral to immune function, but due to our lifestyles or weather in certain seasons, many of us are deficient. This is particularly harmful if you are pregnant and suffer from a suppressed immune system.

  • Probiotics – Good health starts in the gut! Try taking a probiotic supplement or get it from natural sources such as kefir, yogurt, or fermented foods like raw sauerkraut.

Remember, sinus infections may be more common during pregnancy as a result of changes in immune function and swollen mucous membranes. Talk to a doctor to find out which medications are safe to use for a sinus infection while pregnant, including over-the-counter medications. Also make sure to give your body plenty of sleep and proper nourishment.

Thankfully, most cases of sinusitis will go away on their own with minimal care and rest. However, if your infection lingers for longer than a week, do not take any chances. Talk to your doctor or visit urgent care to determine what kinds of treatments are safe to use during your pregnancy, so you can heal safely and avoid complications.

Read More About Sinus Infections While Pregnant


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