Pediatric sinus infections (sinus infections in children) can sometimes be confused with other illnesses that present similar symptoms. However, a pediatric sinus infection is not an uncommon diagnosis for children and is typically easy to treat.
What is a pediatric sinus infection?
A pediatric sinus infection (pediatric sinusitis) occurs when normal sinus mucus is unable to drain and sits too long in the sinus causing an infection.
What are the causes of pediatric sinus infections?
In children, a cold or viral infection is the most common event leading up to a pediatric sinus infection. However, any foreign materials put in the nose can lead to a nasal infection.
According to the American Rhinologic Society, when an infection—such as a cold—begins "the lining of the sinuses may become swollen, blocking the passage where normal sinus mucus drains." Inflammation (swelling) is a normal response to an pediatric sinus infection. The backed-up mucus can't get out. If the mucus sits too long then the sinus may then become infected.
What are the symptoms of pediatric sinus infections?
The symptoms of pediatric sinus infections are similar to symptoms for many other pediatric illnesses. These symptoms can include:
- A prolonged cold (usually more than 10 days)
- Swelling around the eyes, facial pain, or facial pressure
- Headaches in older children
- Sore throat, coughing, congestion or bad breath
- Nausea and vomiting
- Yellow-green nasal drainage
How are pediatric sinus infections diagnosed?
Pediatricians sometimes have difficulty diagnosing sinus infections in children because they often display symptoms that are similar or identical to those displayed with other illnesses. For example, allergies and some viral infections will manifest symptoms like those displayed with a pediatric sinus infection.
An ENT (ear, nose, throat) specialist can diagnose a pediatric sinus infection. The ENT will thoroughly examine your child and ask about health history to give an accurate diagnosis. Occasionally, special instruments or CT scans may be used to determine your child's sinus development, where the blockage is, and to confirm a diagnosis.
These scans can also help the ENT to determine factors that may increase your child's risks for pediatric sinus infections related to structural changes, immune system issues, etc.
How common are pediatric sinus infections?
A pediatric sinus infection is considered a common diagnosis. This diagnosis occurs most frequently after a child is diagnosed with an upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) such as the common cold or a sore throat. According to Dr. Ramadan at Medscape, children have an average of six to eight URTIs per year, and between five and thirteen percent of URTIs are expected to develop a sinus infection as a secondary diagnosis.
How are pediatric sinus infections treated?
Pediatric sinus infections are typically treated with antibiotics. In addition to antibiotics a pediatric doctor might prescribe medications or recommend over the counter medications for a sinus infection that: decrease mucus (decongestants), thin mucus, reduce nasal swelling (steroid nasal sprays).
Typically, children will show signs of improvement within the first few days. Children may even appear "better" within the week but should continue to take medications as prescribed for as long as prescribed.
If your child has chronic pediatric sinus infections, your pediatrician or family doctor may refer you to a pediatric ENT specialist if you aren't seeing one already.
Chronic infections are those that last twelve weeks or more or when a child has four or more infections per year. The ENT specialist may recommend surgical treatment in rare cases when children have severe and/or persistent sinus infections even after medical treatment. The surgical procedure will likely involve the pediatric ENT specialist opening the natural drainage pathways and making the passages wider. Additionally, the pediatric ENT specialist may recommend removal of adenoid tissue.
While pediatric sinus infections can sometimes be confused with other illnesses, they are not an uncommon occurrence among children. Typically, pediatric sinus infections are treated successfully with antibiotics. In the rare cases where this is not enough, surgery can be a safe and effective alternative.