Ear, Nose & Throat

Sinus Infections and Sinusitis in Children

written by Becki Andrus
Sinus Infections and Sinusitis in Children

It’s common for children to get ear infections and head colds, often resulting in symptoms such as a runny nose, congestion, coughing, and more. The signs will go away within about a week with a simple viral infection.

But the symptoms might linger for a while if it’s a more severe condition, such as sinusitis. Most of the time, a head cold doesn’t require medical treatment. But you’ll want to talk to a doctor if you notice that these symptoms aren’t going away.

How to Tell the Difference Between Viral Colds and Sinusitis

There are a few things that you can do to identify the difference between a viral cold and sinusitis. Keep in mind that these symptoms can be similar. So, it’s helpful for parents to have a side-by-side comparison when trying to identify the underlying cause of their child’s symptoms.

Characteristics of a Viral Cold

  • Symptoms of a cold usually go away within a week to 10 days.
  • In the beginning, nasal discharge is watery and clear.
  • As the viral infection progresses, the discharge can change color to yellow or green.
  • The nasal discharge tends to get thicker as the illness progresses, then it starts to get clear again and dries up towards the end of the illness.
  • Coughing is often happening in conjunction with nasal discharge.
  • Check for a fever when the symptoms first start.
  • Symptoms tend to peak in severity around day 3 or 5, then will go away within 10 days at the most.

Characteristics of Sinusitis

  • Symptoms continue beyond 10 days and don’t seem to be improving.
  • There is a thick, colored nasal discharge lasting more than a few days.
  • The child is complaining about headaches.
  • Pressure is present in the head and behind the eyes. This pressure worsens when the child leans over.
  • Bad breath accompanies the other symptoms. (Although other health issues can also cause bad breath).

If the infection spreads to the brain or eyes, there might be other symptoms such as swelling around the eyes, severe pain, vomiting, light sensitivity, irritability, and more.

When to Talk to an ENT About Sinusitis

In the first few days of an illness, it’s hard to distinguish a head cold from sinusitis. However, the most telling sign is the length of time that the symptoms persist. If you notice that your child’s symptoms aren’t improving after 7 – 10 days, then it might be time to schedule an appointment with an ENT.

Also, call immediately if the symptoms are worsening and you are having difficulty helping the child find relief.

Most of the time, a pediatrician is the first doctor a parent will call when their child is sick. A pediatrician can help with basic healthcare concerns, but they might refer you to talk to a specialist if the symptoms are chronic. An ENT can offer unique diagnostic testing and treatments to determine the root cause of sinus issues.

Causes of Sinusitis in Children

When the internal lining of the nose becomes inflamed, an infection can develop in the sinus cavities. The root cause can be identified as two different things:

  • Viral Sinusitis: Typically, this type of sinus infection develops along with a head cold. When a virus is an underlying cause, it’s necessary to use at-home remedies and let the illness run its course.
  • Bacterial Sinusitis: Another cause of sinusitis is a secondary infection that happens because of the presence of bacteria in the sinuses. For example, the symptoms might start as allergies or a head cold. Then, bacteria are trapped, and it results in an infection.

Additionally, different risk factors increase a child’s likelihood of developing sinusitis. Possible conditions that might be contributing include:

  • Abnormal nose shape
  • Birth defect affecting the nose or roof of the mouth
  • Nose injury
  • Foreign object pushed inside the nose
  • Tooth infection
  • Stomach acid issues (GERD)
  • Immunodeficiency syndromes
  • Cystic fibrosis

Treatments for Sinus Infections and Sinusitis

There are two focuses for treating these types of infections. First, the goal is to alleviate the child’s symptoms, so they feel better as soon as possible. Next, addressing the root cause is vital to clear up the infection.

For example, if it is a bacterial infection, the child might need to take an antibiotic for 10 days. But the doctor will want to determine that bacteria is the cause because antibiotics don’t work for viral infections. Always follow through with the entire antibiotic treatment plan, even when the symptoms start to improve.

You can also implement remedies at home to manage other related symptoms. For example, over-the-counter medications can help manage sinus pain or headaches. Try using ibuprofen or acetaminophen – and always follow the doctor’s orders for dosage and frequency.

Other types of medications can be helpful in managing symptoms, such as nasal sprays to reduce congestion. In addition, decongestants and antihistamines are beneficial for clearing up mucus and loosening congestion.

Another option is to place a warm washcloth on the child’s face and sinus area. The heat and moisture can relieve symptoms and loosen up congestion.

Try placing a cool-mist humidifier in the child’s room to help with congestion. Avid use hot-water humidifiers around children because of the risk of injury and burns.

Talk to an ENT About Chronic Sinusitis

Acute sinusitis flares up fast. The symptoms are moderate or intense, but they often go away with regular treatment within a short time. In some cases, sinus problems can develop into chronic issues.

Sinusitis is classified as chronic if the symptoms continue longer than 12 weeks. Additionally, watch for recurring patterns – such as a child who develops sinus infections 3 or more times per year.

A primary care physician or pediatrician can offer immediate remedies for acute illnesses. But a specialist is usually the recommended resource for chronic or recurring sinusitis.

Talk to an ENT About Childhood Sinusitis

What questions do you have about your child’s sinus issues? An ENT can be a great resource for diagnosis and treatment, as well as parent education to reduce the risk of sinus infections in the future. If you suspect your child is suffering from sinus problems, then it’s time to schedule a consultation with a local ENT.

Our services are available to residents of Collin County and Dallas areas. Collin County Ear, Nose, and Throat has an excellent reputation in the local medical industry, and we are always here to help. You can choose from our convenient offices in Frisco or Plano, TX. Complete our form online when you are ready to schedule an appointment, or call: (972) 596-4005.

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