Children's Hospital Colorado

Sinusitis in Children

What is sinusitis?

Sinusitis is inflammation and/or infection of the sinuses. The sinuses are hollow spaces in the bones around the nose. There are four pairs of sinuses:

  • Maxillary sinuses: located below the eye socket
  • Ethmoid sinuses: located between the eye socket and the nasal cavity
  • Frontal sinuses: located right above the eyebrows
  • Sphenoid sinuses: located behind the ethmoid sinuses (deep in the nose)

Your child's sinuses do not fully develop until they get older. In young children, the maxillary and ethmoid sinuses are present. In adolescence, the frontal and sphenoid sinus will develop.

Normal sinuses are filled with air. When sinuses are inflamed or infected, the lining thickens and bacteria-filled secretions fill the sinus cavity.

Sinusitis may also be called rhinosinusitis or a sinus infection. It is generally classified as:

  • Acute (meaning it can last up to four weeks)
  • Subacute (four to 12 weeks)
  • Chronic (longer than 12 weeks)
  • Recurrent (repeated bouts of infection with short intervals of clearing of symptoms in between)

What causes sinusitis in kids?

Sinusitis generally starts as a viral upper respiratory infection (common cold). Cold symptoms that last longer than 10 days increase the chance that the cold will turn into sinusitis. During a cold, the lining of the nose and the sinuses become inflamed and they thicken. Many different types of bacteria, including those that cause sinusitis, then move into the nasal cavity. Like an ear infection, bacteria siphon into the sinuses and cause a sinus infection – or sinusitis.

The following may also increase the risk of sinusitis:

  • Being in a daycare setting
  • Having older siblings
  • Respiratory season (winter months)
  • Pets
  • Exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke
  • Other environmental allergies
  • Immune deficiency or abnormal immune response in children with chronic sinusitis
  • Anatomic structural variations (common ones include septal deviation and enlarged adenoids)

Who gets sinusitis?

Because children get colds often, they are likely to get acute sinusitis at some point. Only a minority of these children will develop chronic sinusitis.

Why does my child keep getting sinus infections?

According to researchers, there is a link between allergic diseases, such as hay fever and asthma, and chronic sinusitis. Other conditions that increase the risk of chronic sinus infections include resistant bacteria, cystic fibrosis and anatomic abnormalities, such as septal deviation and enlarged adenoids. Resistant bacterial infections occur with repeated antibiotic use, or through infections caused by resistant bacteria spread from person to person.

Children with compromised immune systems, such as those with cancer, type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes, can get invasive fungal sinusitis in addition to bacterial sinusitis, which can become fatal. There is another immunologically based sinusitis called allergic fungal sinusitis, which is rare in the Rocky Mountain region.

Get to know our pediatric experts.

Scott Cypers, PhD, MS

Scott Cypers, PhD, MS

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Leila Covrigaru, PNP

Leila Covrigaru, PNP

Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

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Norman Friedman, MD

Norman Friedman, MD

Otolaryngology

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Tammy Wang, MD

Tammy Wang, MD

Otolaryngology

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