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Chronic sinus infections in kids: learn the signs & stop the cycle

Common colds are easily confused with allergies & sinus infections in kids because the symptoms are all similar. Learn how to tell the difference and what to do to avoid chronic sinus infections.

What is a sinus infection?

The sinuses are four paired spaces in the head that are connected by narrow channels.[2] The sinuses produce thin mucus that drains out of the channels of the nose, helping to keep the nose free from bacteria and viruses. A sinus infection (sinusitis) is when the sinuses which are normally filled with air become inflamed, blocked, and filled with fluid.[2] This fluid can harbor bacteria and viruses that can cause a sinus infection.[2] Sinus infections are caused by both bacteria, viruses, or allergies.

What type of sinus problems do kids usually have?

Children are most commonly diagnosed with viral sinusitis, a viral upper respiratory infection.1] The most common bacteria that causes childhood sinus infections are streptococcus pneumonia, haemophilus influenzae, or moraxella catarrhalis.[3] Children are more susceptible to infections in their nose, ears, and sinuses during their early years of life.[2]

What are the symptoms in children?

It can be difficult to distinguish if one has a sinus infection, a cold, or allergies as some of the symptoms of each illness are the same.[2] A cold can transform into a sinus infection and seasonal allergies can be a precursor to a sinus infection. Children’s symptoms can present as cold-like symptoms.


  • A cold that last more than 10-14 days.[2]
  • A fever.[2]
  • Post nasal drip at times accompanied with a sore throat, cough, bad breath, nausea, and vomiting.[2]
  • Headache.[2]
  • Stuffy nose.[3]
  • Irritability or tiredness.[2]
  • Swelling around the eyes.[2]

The Different Types of Sinus Infections:

Acute Bacterial Sinusitis: A sudden onset of cold symptoms such as a runny nose, congestive nose, and facial pain that persists for longer than 10 days and doesn’t get worse. At times symptoms might seem to improve only to return with even worse symptoms than what was initial experienced.[1][2] It is important to continue to treat your child with all medicines that the doctor recommends and to finish the antibiotic therapy.[1]

Chronic Sinusitis: This occurs when there is nasal congestion, drainage, facial pain or pressure, and a decreased sense of smell that lasts for at least 12 weeks. Usually the infection has cleared however there is prolonged inflammation that is making the suffer uncomfortable.[1][2] Children that suffer from two or more symptoms of sinus infections within a 12 week period of time coupled with sinus pressure, may have chronic sinusitis.[1] If your child has more than four to six sinus infections per year, you should see an ENT specialist so that they can determine what testing and treatment is needed.[1][3]

Subacute Sinusitis: When the symptoms of a sinus infection that last for four to twelve weeks it is called subacute sinusitis.[2]

Treatment for sinusitis:

  • An acute bacterial sinus infection responds best to antibiotics and decongestants.[2]
  • Nasal steroid sprays, drops, or gentle sprays help to relieve nasal nasal congestion and stuffiness.[1]
  • Nasal sprays, drops, or other medicines that contain antihistamines and decongestants may be prescribed. These will help to loosen and get rid of the mucus.[3]
  • Allergy shot may be prescribed if the child has nasal allergies to help reduce their sensitivity to pollen, dust mites, or mold.[3]
  • Referral to an ENT specialist for needed test, treatment, and at times surgery.[3]


To help prevent sinus infections use a humidifier in dry environments as this will stop dry air from irritating the sinuses.[3] Have your child use nasal saline washes to keep their nose as moist as possible.[3] Keep your child away from things that stimulate their allergic response system such as dust, pollen, smoke, mold, dust mites, and animal dander.[3] Practice good hand washing techniques to limit the spread of germs.[3] Stay up do date with immunizations. Avoid contact with people who are sick.[3]

Current research suggests that the use of oral probiotics may help prevent chronic inflammation of the sinuses. Probiotics are live microorganisms that when administered in significant amounts can offer benefits to our bodies and reduce infections.[5] Probiotics can be taken orally or through nasal sprays.[5] Talk with your child doctor or an ENT to see if they recommend the usage of probiotics for your child. It is important to see your child’s doctor as a sinus infection can lead to other life threatening conditions if it is not treated properly and progresses.

Kari Carter-Cherelus

Kari Carter-Cherelus RDH, DA is a registered Dental Hygienist, writer, consultant, coach, international keynote speaker, with 23 years of experience in dentistry. She is passionate about helping others recover from burnout, improving organization’s work culture, and helping her clients to improve their mindset. She authored the book The Ultimate Guide For Dental Hygienist Burnout, and has written for RDH Graduate, RDH Magazine, and Inside Dental Hygiene.

  1. ENT Health. Pediatric Sinusitis.
  2. Cleveland Clinic. Sinus Infection. (2020, June 4). (Sinusitis)
  3. Standford Medicine. Sinusitis in Children.
  4. Sinusitis (Sinus Infection).
  5. Medical News Today. Friendly nasa bacteria may protect against sinusitis. Kingsland, James. (2020, June 20).