The sinuses are four sets of hollow spaces filled with moist air that are located in the cheekbones, behind the nasal passages, in the forehead and deep in the brain. They are lined with the same mucous membranes that line the nose and mouth. When sinuses develop an infection that causes them to swell or become irritated, the condition is known as sinusitis. These infections can follow colds or result from a triggering of allergies. Sinusitis is a condition that is fairly common and is one that is easily treated.
When someone has a cold or allergies, part of their normal immune response involves the production of extra mucous from the mucous membranes, both in the nasal passages and in sinus tissue. Occasionally the drainage system for the sinuses can become blocked, trapping the mucous in the sinuses. Because the sinuses are warm and moist, they provide the perfect environment for organisms to thrive, meaning that bacteria, viruses, and fungi can grow there and cause sinusitis.
The symptoms of sinusitis can differ depending on the age of the child. Common to all children are cold symptoms and a slight fever. Older children (over 6-7 years of age) often have a daytime dry cough that doesn’t improve after the first 7 days of the cold symptoms developing. They may also experience dental pain, ear pain, tenderness in the face, headaches, and pain behind the eyes because their sinuses are fully developed. Younger children are less likely to experience these pains because their sinuses remain underdeveloped and they often just show symptoms of a cold, including a stuffy or runny nose. If your 4 year old child develops a fever 5-7 days after cold symptoms begin, it could signal that they are developing sinusitis or another infection; such as bronchitis, pneumonia, or an ear infection.
When should I call my doctor?
You should call your doctor if your child develops a cold that lasts for more than 10 days without any improvement or if they have a cold that seems to be getting worse after 7 days of symptoms. If your child suffers allergies, you should speak to your doctor if their symptoms of allergies don’t clear with their usual allergy medication. Also, call the doctor if your child shows any other signs of sinusitis, such as pain, stiffness in the cheeks, or any pains in the facial area and behind their eyes.
If it is thought that the sinusitis is being caused by bacteria, your doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics to treat it. Cases of sinusitis caused by viruses usually resolve themselves without medical treatment. Some doctors may also recommend decongestants and antihistamines to help reduce the symptoms. Over-the-counter cold preparations have not been found to be effective in reducing sinusitis symptoms in children.
Using a humidifier in the home can help lower the risk of sinusitis and this is especially the case in this part of the world where air conditioning is used nearly all year round and tends to dry the internal atmosphere. Placing a humidifier in the living rooms and bedrooms can moisten the air and prevent it from irritating the sinuses, making them less susceptible to developing an infection. If you do decide to place one or more humidifiers in your home, make sure that you clean them regularly with detergent, as they are prone to mould growth. If mould does develop inside a humidifier it can result in spores being releases into the air. These spores can cause breathing problem and sinus congestion, leading to sinusitis – the very condition you are aiming to avoid. Although sinusitis itself is not a contagious disease, the cold that often precedes it is, so good hygiene – particularly regular and thorough hand washing – is important to mimimise the risk of germs spreading.