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Sinusitis

Sinuses are moist air spaces within the bones of the face around the nose. When sinuses swell or become irritated, the infection is called sinusitis. These infections usually follow colds or bouts with allergies.

Cases of sinusitis are common and can be easily treated.

Causes

The sinuses are four sets of hollow spaces that are located in the cheekbones, the forehead, behind the nasal passages, and deep in the brain. Sinuses are lined with the same mucous membranes that line the nose and mouth.

When someone has a cold or allergies and the nasal passages become swollen and make more mucus, so do the sinus tissues. The drainage system for the sinuses can get blocked, and mucus can become trapped in the sinuses. Bacteria, viruses, and fungi can grow there and lead to sinusitis.

Symptoms

Sinusitis can cause different symptoms for kids of varying ages.

Younger kids often have cold-like symptoms, including a stuffy or runny nose and slight fever. If your child develops a fever 5-7 days after cold symptoms begin, it could signal sinusitis or another infection (like bronchitis, pneumonia, or an ear infection), so call your doctor.

Many parents mistake cold-related headaches in young kids for sinus infections. But the sinuses in the forehead don't start developing until kids are 6 or 7 years old and aren't formed enough to get infected until the early teen years, so headaches in kids who have colds usually aren't sinus infections.

In older kids and teens, the most frequent symptoms of sinusitis are a daytime dry cough that doesn't improve after the first 7 days of cold symptoms, fever, worsening congestion, dental pain, ear pain, or tenderness in the face. Sometimes teens who have sinusitis also develop upset stomachs, nausea, headaches, and pain behind the eyes.

Prevention

Simple changes in your lifestyle or home environment can help lower the risk of sinusitis. For example, during the winter, when the cold air outside and your heating system make the air inside your home abnormally dry, consider using a humidifier to keep home humidity at 45%-50%. This will stop dry air from irritating the sinuses and make them less of a target for infection. It's important to clean your humidifier regularly to prevent mold growth.

Although sinusitis itself is not contagious, it is often preceded by a cold, which can spread easily, particularly among family or friends. The most effective way to prevent germs from spreading is to teach kids the importance of frequent hand washing, particularly when they're sick.

Treatment

Doctors may prescribe oral antibiotics to treat cases of sinusitis that are believed to be caused by bacteria. Some doctors may recommend decongestants and antihistamines to help reduce the symptoms.

Cases of sinusitis caused by viruses usually go away on their own without medical treatment. Acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and/or warm compresses can help reduce any pain. But over-the-counter cold preparations have not been found to be effective in reducing symptoms in kids and may cause unwanted side effects.

Call the doctor whenever your child has:

  • a cold that lasts for more than 10 days without improvement
  • a cold that seems to be getting worse after 7 days of symptoms
  • symptoms of allergies that don't clear with the usual allergy medication

Also call the doctor if your child shows any other signs of sinusitis, like pain or stiffness in the cheeks, a fever, or a cold that seems worse than usual.

Reviewed by: Joel Klein, MD
Date reviewed: July 2010

Kids Health

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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