Your child has been having a ‘blocked’ nose with a yellow nasal discharge for more than a week. She is also experiencing a persistent cough and sore throat. Although the symptoms point to a bad case of the flu, what puzzles you is that it is prolonged and doesn’t show signs of clearing up. Parents who have been in this situation will know that their child has a sinus infection.
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Sinusitis arises when the mucous membranes which line the sinus cavities are inflamed. This swelling causes the mucous glands in the sinuses to secrete excess fluid and obstruct the tiny holes which allow for drainage. Acute sinusitis is most commonly the result of a bacterial infection where the buildup of fluid in the sinuses is less ‘classical’. They seldom complain of headache, facial pain, or toothache. In most children, purulent nasal and eye discharge may be the only signs of sinus disease. Those with chronic sinusitis usually have nasal congestion, persistent cough, and sore throat. Halitosis or bad breath may also be present. Only careful examination of the upper airway will reveal infection in the nasal drainage.
The vast majority of sinusitis sufferers have high levels of allergies, and about 70% of those with chronic sinusitis have asthma as well. Sufferers are usually allergic to dust mites, and only very rarely is food allergy the cause, although spicy food may aggravate the situation. Other triggers include cold weather and strong smells. To control sinusitis, parents must check their environment.
The most common inhalant allergen is the house dust mite. These are mites that live on human skin and are present in the dust of your home. What is harmful about these bugs is the highly allergenic feces. Despite what people think, allergies are not always aggravated by poor air quality, and the problem may be found in your carpets, furniture, draperies, stuffed toys, and bedding where dust mites thrive.
Although it is impossible to eradicate house dust, simple measures can reduce the dust level in the home, with special attention to your child’s bedroom. Experts recommend a thorough cleaning of the room at least once a week, and minimizing the use of objects that collect dust such as soft toys, soft furnishing, and carpets. If possible, buy pillows and mattresses only made of synthetic material. All blankets, bedsheets, and pillows should be washed in hot water once a month, as the heat will kill the mites.
Next to dust mites, molds may be the second most common culprit. In places where there is increased humidity, homes that have carpets laid on a concrete slab tend to harbor tons of mold growth. There are 100,000 types of molds (which usually thrive in basements and bathrooms) with toxic agents such as bleach that will keep them at bay. Some molds, however, may be hard to reach as they grow in out-of-the-way places.
Most pets like cats, dogs, hamsters, mice, and rabbits release proteins that may lead to allergic reactions. If possible, keep them outdoors and bathe them at least once a week.
Clearing Out The Sinus
Occasionally, sinus infections clear up on their own. But the best treatment for your child would be a good course of antibiotics. While nasal decongestants help unblock the openings of the sinuses, antihistamines in either tablet or syrup help reduce mucus production. These medications are easily available over-the-counter but you should always consult your family doctor first.
In adults, doctors may recommend surgical drainage when congestion does not respond to medication. However, this is highly unlikely in young children as doctors have found a marked reduction in the frequency of sinus disease from childhood to adolescence, suggesting a ‘healing’ effect from growth. Still, predicting which child’s condition will improve remains an open question.