Sinus Infections in Children: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment


As the weather turns chilly day by day, it is common to have your child develop a runny nose. Kids are often left battling with drippy noses and consequent fever and blocked air passages. Though, it may not bother a child so much, it does become a matter of concern when a runny nose does not become ok and persistently creates worry for a parent. It is possible your child has developed sinusitis or a sinus infection that needs immediate attention.

In this article:

What are sinuses?
What is Sinusitis?
Diagnosis of Sinus Infections in Children
Treatment for Sinus Infections in Children
Is a Sinus Infection Contagious in Babies?
Can Sinus Infections Lead to Serious Health Issues or Complications?
How to Reduce the Risk of Sinusitis?

sinus infection in children

All You Need to Know about Sinus Infections in Children

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What are sinuses?

Parents have generally heard of the word ‘sinusitis’ but are confused about what it means. Sinuses are merely air pockets in the upper jaw and skull, which form a part of our respiratory system. They serve important functions such as making inhaled air moist, providing resonance to voice and protecting against facial injury.

What is Sinusitis?

Sinusitis means an inflammation of the sinuses. Sinusitis is a common problem in children and adolescents. Children are a vulnerable population when it comes to developing sinusitis and parents must be aware of this problem, so that they can help their child regain their healthy life as soon as possible. There are a number of causes of sinusitis, such as bacterial infections, viral infections or allergies.

1. Long lasting cold

Generally a ‘cold’ lasts only 5-10 days. If your child is not recovering from a cold and seems to show persistent cold-like symptoms, there is a chance that he/ she has sinusitis.

2. Persistent cough

If your child has persistent coughing that is not improving over 5 to 10 days, it could be a sign of sinusitis. Children with sinusitis keep coughing over many days and this can be frustrating for parents as to why a cough is not resolving soon. This could be a good reason to suspect sinusitis. The cough may also worsen at night, making it difficult for the child to sleep.

3. Nasal discharge

If your child has a drippy nose, with a continuous flow or nasal discharge, it is possible that sinusitis could be developing. Take a look at the color of nasal discharge also. A thick, yellowish or greenish discharge could indicate sinusitis.


4. Fever

If your child has sinusitis, he/she will usually develop fever, as a result of bacterial infection of the sinuses. Fever that is persistent for more than 3 – 4 days needs to be checked for possible development of sinusitis.

5. Headache

One of the characteristic problems you might find in your child that is indicative of sinusitis is headache. The headache is usually around or above the eye or eyebrow area.

6. Pain

Your child may complain of pain if he/she is suffering from sinusitis. When asked about the location of pain, your child may touch his/her cheeks in the upper jaw region. If the child is unable to tell where the pain is, you may press lightly over the cheek in the upper jaw area. If the area is tender, the child may report pain if sinusitis is developing.

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7. Sore throat, bad breath and/or nausea and vomiting

A few non specific symptoms such as sore throat, bad breath or nausea and vomiting could indicate sinusitis. However, these may be caused by a number of other reasons as well, so parents need to understand that these symptoms along with the other listed symptoms is more characteristic of sinusitis, and not in isolation.

8. Swelling around the eyes

Occasionally, you may see a slight swelling around the eyes in your child, which again could indicate sinusitis.


9. Irritability

A child with sinusitis may be irritable and restless because of the long lasting problems he/she is facing. A child gets irritable and disturbed because of persistent runny nose and headache.

10. Cocktail of symptoms

Generally, a child with an uncomplicated cold will show fever, body ache and headache during the first few days of the cold starting and then it mostly becomes ok. This is followed by airway problems such as a runny nose. However, if your child is developing sinusitis, he/she will show a cocktail of symptoms and signs such as runny nose, fever, headache and body ache concurrently or all together.

11. Overall improvement

Generally, by the 10th day of a cold, the symptoms of the cold such as runny nose and fever should be improving and your child should be feeling better. However, if your child continues to feel ill, irritable, have a headache and/or runny nose, sinusitis may be the cause. So look for overall improvement and if there is none, visit your pediatrician.

Diagnosis of Sinus Infections in Children

Generally, your child’s physician can diagnose sinusitis based on your child’s symptoms and physical examination. In some cases additional tests may be performed to confirm the diagnosis. These may include:

Sinus X-Rays

Diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film. (X-rays are not typically used, but may help assist in the diagnosis.)


Computed Tomography (also called CT or CAT Scan)

A diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce horizontal, or axial, images (often called slices) of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general X-rays.

Cultures from the Sinuses

Laboratory tests that involve the growing of bacteria or other microorganisms to aid in diagnosis.

Treatment for Sinus Infections in Children

Specific treatment for sinusitis will be determined by your child’s physician based on:

  • Your child’s age, overall health, and medical history
  • Extent of the infection
  • Your child’s tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the infection
  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment of sinusitis may include the following:

  • Antibiotics, as determined by your child’s physician (antibiotics are usually given for at least 14 days)
  • Acetaminophen (for pain or discomfort)
  • A decongestant (for instance, pseudoephedrine [Sudafed] and/or mucus thinner such as guaifenesin [Robitussin])
  • Cool humidifier in your child’s room
  • Nasal spray to reduce inflammation
  • Medications to treat GERD
  • Surgery to remove the adenoids
  • Endoscopic sinus surgery

Antibiotics may be withheld for 10 to 14 days, unless severe symptoms develop, such as: fever, facial pain or tenderness, or swelling around the eye. Surgery should be considered only if other treatments have failed.


Referral to an allergist/immunologist is often needed, particularly for people with chronic or recurrent sinusitis and for patients who have had sinus surgery, but still experience sinusitis.

Antihistamines do not help the symptoms of sinusitis unless an allergy is involved.

Is a Sinus Infection Contagious in Babies?

There are several causes of sinus infections, some of which are contagious. A sinus infection that is caused by a virus is contagious and spreads easily from person to person. Sinus infections caused by a deformity, a blockage in the nasal passages, or allergies are not contagious.

Can Sinus Infections Lead to Serious Health Issues or Complications?

Complications around the eyes are the more common of the two. These complications can cause redness, swelling around the eyes and reduced vision, and even lead to blindness, in a severe form known as cavernous sinus thrombosis.


How to Reduce the Risk of Sinusitis?

 You can take these steps to keep infections and allergens at bay:

Wash your hands frequently 

This is especially important during cold weather, when viruses can live longer on doorknobs and other surfaces.

Get a Flu shot yearly

By preventing the flu, you may also prevent a sinus infection for your kid.

Eat a well-balanced diet and regular exercise

Staying in good health keeps your kid’s immune system on guard

Use a humidifier

Dryness can lead to sinus pain. Your kid can run a hot shower and inhale the steam. Or put a steaming towel over your kid’s head — that’s an old remedy for relief from sinus pain. If you use a humidification machine, make sure you clean it daily, following manufacturer’s directions, so that the humidifier itself does not become a source for sinus problems.


Don’t overdo the antibiotics

Antibiotics will help if you have a bacterial infection, but they won’t do anything for viral infections. And if your kid takes too many antibiotics, you can build up a resistance to the medication.

A lot can be done if your child is suffering from sinusitis. Generally, antibiotic therapy, saline nasal drops are prescribes under supervision of pediatrician, to treat sinusitis. Avoidance of allergens or things which trigger sinusitis can also be helpful. With growing levels of air pollution, it is all the more necessary to protect your child from smoke, dust and toxic particles contaminating the air. In general, if your child is suffering from persistent runny nose, nasal discharge, headache, fever and/or crankiness, get your child checked for possible sinusitis.

Parents should not be alarmed if sinusitis develops. It is treatable and every problem responds better if diagnosed early. However, sinusitis, if not det

 An informed parent is a good parent. So always arm yourself with information, you never know when it is needed!

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Hope this article was of help for all our parents!! Please share your comments/queries/tips with us and help us create a world full of Happy and Healthy Babies!!