Sinus infections are one of the most common illnesses children and adults experience. These infections originate with bacteria in the nose or throat from an initial infection like allergies, a cold, or the flu.
What are sinuses and where are they located?
Sinuses are holes in the skull which have a few purposes. The sinuses make the human head lighter, and they help with voice projection. Most importantly, the sinuses produce mucus, which coats the lining of the nose and throat and, ideally, prevents illness.
Babies are not born with all of their sinuses. Humans have several sets of sinuses: maxillary sinuses in their cheeks, frontal sinuses in their foreheads and ethmoid and sphenoid sinuses in the skull. Babies are born with the ethmoid and maxillary sinuses and the rest develop as the child ages.
What happens during a sinus infection?
During a sinus infection, the sinuses drain into the nasal cavity. Occasionally, the opening to the cavity can swell shut, similarly to what happens during ear infections. Because the mucus cannot drain, bacteria develops and causes the infection. The bacteria causes pus to develop and, in turn, builds pressure and causes pain in the face and nasal area.
Sinus infections are different from sinus pain. Sinus pain can be caused by pressure from allergies or a cold, as well as bacterial infections.
My child has sinus pain. What should I do?
When your child experiences sinus pain, the doctor will determine if the pain is due to a cold or allergies, or a more serious infection. If the sinus pain is caused by allergies, a physician might recommend a daily allergy medication or a different allergy treatment. If the pain is from a virus and not bacteria, doctors may advise the patient to drink lots of fluids, give it time, and administer over-the-counter pain medication as needed.
If the patient has a bacterial infection, a doctor will most likely prescribe an antibiotic for 10 to 20 days to clear up the infection.
When should you worry about a sinus infection?
If your child is exhibiting any of the following, they should see a doctor:
- Tenderness at the sinus cavity areas
- A cough that lasts 10 days or longer
- A cough that is worse when the child is lying down
- Fever that arrives at the middle or end of a cold
- A cough that is out of proportion with the child’s runny nose. If a child has a lot of sinus drainage, he or she should also have a lot of coughing. If they do not, antibiotics might be needed.
Children should be cough-free for at least three days at the end of the course of their antibiotic treatment. If they are not, contact the physician, because additional treatment might be needed. Bacteria could have survived the first round of antibiotic treatment, and, at that point, a new infection may have developed or it may be antibiotic-resistant bacteria.