Ear, Nose & Throat

Sinus Infections in Children – Symptoms and Treatments

written by Becki Andrus

It’s not unusual for small children to have runny noses, which is why parents find it helpful to always have a pack of pocket tissues on hand. The runny nose could be a sign of allergies, a head cold, or even playing outside in the cold weather.

But when a runny nose is paired with other symptoms, it could indicate that you need to schedule an appointment with an ENT.

What Parents Need to Know About Sinus Infections in Children

A sinus infection means that an infection has developed in the sinus cavities. Often, the child has allergies or a cold first. Then, a secondary infection occurs.

Just because the mucus coming from your child’s nose is green or yellow doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a sinus infection. The only way to determine an accurate diagnosis is by working with an experienced doctor.

Sinus infections can be either viral or bacterial. In fact, you might be surprised to learn that a sinus infection is viral 9 out of 10 times, which means that antibiotics won’t help.

How to Tell the Difference Between a Cold and Sinus Infection

Your child might not be able to describe their symptoms accurately. So, parents need to monitor the progression of the symptoms, so they know when it’s time to schedule an appointment with an ENT.

It’s common for a viral cold to cause the initial onset of symptoms. Then, if bacteria or a secondary viral sinus infection begins, the symptoms start to change. Here are a few clues to help you determine the difference between a sinus infection and a cold:

Symptoms of a Head Cold:

  • Symptoms only last for 5 – 10 days
  • Nasal discharge is usually runny and watery
  • Coughing during the day and night
  • Low-grade fever for the first 1 – 2 days
  • Symptoms are the worst around days 3 – 5, then start to improve

Symptoms of a Sinus Infection:

  • Green or yellow nasal mucus
  • Cold symptoms (listed above) last longer than 10 days
  • Headache and/or sinus pressure
  • Dark circles around the eyes
  • Symptoms continue to worsen with time
  • Bad breath
  • Swelling around the eyes
  • Facial tenderness
  • Pain in the ears or teeth
  • Worsening congestion

In the first few days, you might not be able to tell if your child has a head cold or a sinus infection. But pay attention to whether the child is getting better or if things progress so you know when to contact an ENT.

The Difference Between Acute and Chronic Sinus Infections

Most of the time, children have acute sinus infections. These infections happen suddenly and can be treated within a few days.

Chronic sinusitis is more common among adults but can sometimes affect children as well. Chronic sinus infections include symptoms that last for months and/or recurring sinus infections throughout the year.

When you are talking to an ENT, make sure to share details about the symptoms and length of time. Then, the doctor can determine the ideal treatment plan for immediate and long-term relief.

Are Sinus Infections Contagious?

Since sinus infections usually follow a head cold, it’s possible that the sickness can be shared among family members. The viral infection can be spread to other people.

Sinusitis isn’t contagious, but the virus causing the head cold (which leads to sinus infections) can be contagious.

If a member of your family has symptoms, then prevent spreading by following good handwashing habits.

Signs that Antibiotics Might Be Necessary for a Sinus Infection

Because of the concerns about antibiotic resistance, many primary care physicians and ENTs are selective about when they prescribe antibiotics.

If the sinus infection is bacterial, then an antibiotic can be a great way to clear up the infection. But we avoid using these prescription medications for viral infections.

Specific criteria need to be met before we consider using antibiotics for a sinus infection treatment:

  1. Symptoms Are Not Improving: The child has had nasal congestion, facial pressure/pain, coughing, and a sinus headache for 10 days. These symptoms aren’t improving.
  2. Symptoms Improved, Then Worsened: Sometimes, the head cold symptoms will start to go away after 5 or 6 days. However, if symptoms start up again and get worse, it could be due to a new infection in the sinuses.
  3. Fever for Several Days: The presence of fever could be an indication of an underlying infection. Watch for a fever over 102 degrees Fahrenheit that lasts for several days in a row.

If antibiotics are recommended for children, the treatment typically lasts for 10 – 14 days. After that, your pediatrician or ENT will prescribe the ideal treatment plan to address your child’s unique needs.

The child’s symptoms will begin to improve within a few days of starting the medication. As with any type of antibiotic treatment, it’s crucial to continue doses consistently until the prescription is finished – even if the symptoms are gone.

Other Treatments for Pediatric Sinus Infections

Help your child stay comfortable through symptom management. A few at-home remedies and doctor recommendations can alleviate symptoms and promote a faster recovery:

  • Warm Washcloth: When the child is experiencing a headache or sinus pain, a warm washcloth on the face can help. The warmth helps to soothe the sinuses and promote drainage.
  • Humidifier: Place a cool-mist humidifier in the child’s room while they are sleeping. Avoid hot water vaporizers since they can cause burns and injury.
  • Nasal Flushes: If the child is old enough, then nasal saline flushes can be helpful to clear out the sinuses and eliminate mucus.
  • Medications: Certain types of medication can be helpful for symptom management. Nasal steroid sprays might be prescribed for severe or long-lasting sinusitis.
  • Underlying Cause: The doctor will help by addressing the underlying cause of the sinus infection. For example, if the child suffers from seasonal allergies, then antihistamines might be necessary to reduce the risk of sinus infections in the future.

Call a Local ENT for an Exam

One option to support your child’s health is to schedule an examination with an ENT. We have a team of medical experts and the proper tools to determine an appropriate diagnosis for your child’s symptoms. In addition, we’re happy to answer your questions and help you find the ideal treatment, so your child recovers as quickly as possible.

If you live in or near Collin County or Dallas, then you are welcome to visit our office any time. Contact us at Collin County Ear, Nose, and Throat to learn more about available services. We offer several offices in the area, including locations in Frisco and Plano, TX. Fill out our online form to schedule an appointment, or call: (972) 596-4005.

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