Pregnancy has its own set of symptoms. Some days you may feel physically and emotionally well, and other days you may feel ill. Many women have morning sickness, tiredness, and back pain throughout their three trimesters.

Getting sick with a sinus infection while experiencing other pregnancy symptoms can take a toll on the body.

Here’s how to prevent and treat a sinus infection.

Symptoms of a sinus infection during pregnancy

Sinusitis can develop at any point during the first, second, or third trimester of pregnancy. This is an infection and inflammation in the lining of your sinuses, which are air-filled pockets located around the face and nose.

A sinus infection can cause different symptoms, including:

  • mucus drainage
  • stuffy nose
  • pain and pressure around the face
  • sore throat
  • headache
  • fever
  • coughing

The symptoms can be worrisome, but there are ways to treat and prevent a sinus infection during pregnancy.

What causes a sinus infection?

Symptoms of a sinus infection can mimic other conditions like allergies and the common cold. An acute infection can last up to four weeks, while chronic infections can last more than 12 weeks. Sinusitis during pregnancy is triggered by a viral, bacterial, or fungal infection.

In some cases, a sinus infection is a complication of the common cold. You’re also at higher risk for a sinus infection if you suffer from allergies. In both conditions, mucus can block the sinus cavities and cause swelling and inflammation. This can lead to an infection.

A sinus infection causes unpleasant symptoms and can make you feel worse while pregnant, but relief is available.

Treating a sinus infection while pregnant

You may be concerned about taking medication for a sinus infection while pregnant. Your concerns are valid. The good news is that there are over-the-counter medications that are safe to take while pregnant.

For example, you can relieve a sinus headache and sore throat with acetaminophen. Make sure you take the pain reliever as directed.

Other safe medications to take during pregnancy include:

  • decongestants
  • antihistamines
  • expectorants
  • cough suppressants

Aspirin isn't recommended during pregnancy unless under the guidance of a doctor. Likewise, you should avoid ibuprofen unless you’re under a doctor’s supervision. This medication has been linked to pregnancy complications such as reduced amniotic fluid and miscarriage.

Consult your doctor if you have questions about safe medications to take while treating a sinus infection during pregnancy.

Home remedies for a sinus infection during pregnancy

Medications like a cough suppressant, a pain reliever, and a decongestant can relieve symptoms of an infection. But you can also treat symptoms with home remedies.

For example, increasing your fluid intake can ease a sore throat, loosen mucus drainage, and clear a stuffy nose. Ideal fluids include:

  • water
  • citrus juices
  • decaf teas
  • broth

Other home remedies for a sinus infection include:

  • Use saline drops from the pharmacy, or make your own drops using 1 cup of warm water, 1/8 teaspoon of salt, and a pinch of baking soda.
  • Run a humidifier at night to keep your nasal passage clear and thin mucus.
  • Sleep with more than one pillow to elevate your head. This stops mucus from accumulating in your sinuses at night.
  • Gargle with warm salt water to soothe a sore throat, or suck on throat lozenges.
  • Slow down and relax. Rest can strengthen your immune system and help you fight the infection.

If you have facial pain or headaches from sinusitis, relieve pain by placing a hot or cold pack on your forehead, or gently massage your forehead. Taking a warm bath may also provide relief from a sinus headache.

When to see a doctor

A sinus infection can resolve itself with home treatment and without complications, but there are times when you should see a doctor. Make an appointment with your doctor if your symptoms don’t improve with over-the-counter medications or home remedies, or if you have worsening symptoms.

Contact a doctor if you have a fever higher than 101°F (38°C), or if you start coughing up green or yellow mucus. You should also see a doctor if you have recurrent sinus infections.

A severe sinus infection left untreated increases the risk of complications such as meningitis, which is inflammation of the membranes in the brain or spinal cord.

An untreated infection can spread to other parts of the body, such as the bones, eyes, and skin. It can also affect your sense of smell.

Tests for a sinus infection during pregnancy

If you seek medical attention, your doctor may conduct a variety of tests. These include:

  • Nasal endoscopy: A procedure where your doctor inserts a thin, flexible tube into your nose to examine your sinuses.
  • Imaging tests: Your doctor may order a CT scan or an MRI to take images of your sinuses.

Depending on your specific case, your doctor may also order a nasal and sinus culture to determine the underlying cause of your sinus infection. Or, you may undergo allergy testing to see whether chronic sinus infections are triggered by allergies.

Next steps

Getting a sinus infection while pregnant isn’t fun, but there are ways to prevent and lower your risk.

These infections often develop after the common cold, so try to do everything possible to avoid getting sick with a cold. Limit contact with sick people and maybe wear a facial mask to protect yourself from germs. It's also important to wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your mouth and nose.

If you suffer from allergies, ask your doctor about pregnancy-safe antihistamines to manage your symptoms (prescription or over-the-counter). You should also avoid situations that can trigger an allergy flare-up. Avoid establishments with heavy scents or cigarette smoke, and stop using fragrances and cleaning products with strong odors.

Dry air prevents the sinuses from draining, so using a humidifier to increase the moisture level in your home can also reduce your risk of a sinus infection.