What Is Sinusitis?

Sinuses are moist air spaces within the bones of the face around the nose. When they get infected and swell or become irritated, this is called sinusitis (or a sinus infection).

These infections usually follow colds or bouts with allergies. Sinusitis is common and easy to treat.

What Causes Sinusitis?

The sinuses are four sets of hollow spaces located in the cheekbones, forehead, between the eyes, and behind the eyes and nasal passages. 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. If they can't drain, the sinuses can get blocked and mucus can become trapped in them. Germs can grow there and lead to sinusitis.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Sinusitis?

Sinusitis can cause different symptoms.

Younger kids often have:

  • cold-like symptoms, including a stuffy or runny nose
  • 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. Cold-related headaches in young kids usually aren't sinus infections. That's because the sinuses in the forehead don't start developing until kids are 9 or 12 years old and aren't formed enough to get infected until the early teen years.

In older kids and teens, the most common sinusitis symptoms are:

  • a cough that doesn't improve after the first 7 days of cold symptoms
  • fever
  • worsening congestion
  • bad breath
  • dental pain
  • ear pain
  • tenderness in the face

Sometimes, teens also have upset stomachs, nausea, headaches, and pain behind the eyes.

Can Sinusitis Be Prevented?

Simple changes in your lifestyle or home environment can help lower the risk of sinusitis. For example, during the winter, use 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. Clean your humidifier often to prevent mold growth.

Is Sinusitis Contagious?

Sinusitis itself is not contagious. But it often follows a cold, which can spread easily among family and friends. To prevent spreading germs, teach your family to wash their hands well and often, particularly when they're sick.

How Is Sinusitis Treated?

Doctors may prescribe oral antibiotics to treat sinusitis caused by bacteria . Some doctors may recommend decongestants and antihistamines to help ease symptoms.

Sinusitis caused by a virus usually goes away without medical treatment. Acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and/or warm compresses can help reduce any pain. Over-the-counter saline solution (saltwater) is safe and helps wash the nose and relieve many symptoms caused by allergies, viruses, and bacteria.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

Call the doctor whenever your child has:

  • a cold that lasts for more than 7–10 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 medicine

Also call if your child shows any other signs of worsening sinusitis, such as:

  • pain or pressure in the cheeks or around the eyes
  • swelling around the eye(s)
  • fever
  • a cold that seems worse than usual and is not clearing up
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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2020 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.

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