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Acute Sinusitis in Children: Care Instructions

Sinuses in child's face around eyes and nose, showing clear sinuses on one side of face and inflamed sinuses with mucus buildup in a sinus on other side.


Acute sinusitis is an inflammation of the mucous membranes inside the nose and sinuses. Sinuses are the hollow spaces in your child's skull around the eyes and nose. Acute sinusitis often follows a cold from a viral infection. Acute sinusitis causes nose symptoms that include mucus that drains from the nose or the back of the throat along with a stuffy or blocked nose. It also causes a cough. Other symptoms can include a fever, a headache, face pain, and bad breath.

In most cases, acute sinusitis gets better on its own in 7 to 10 days. But some mild symptoms may last longer. If there is a bacterial infection, antibiotics are often needed.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Use saline (saltwater) nasal washes to help keep your child's nasal passages open and wash out mucus and allergens.
    • You can buy saline nose washes at a grocery store or drugstore. Follow the instructions on the package.
    • You can make your own at home. Add 1 teaspoon (5 millilitres) of non-iodized salt and 1 teaspoon (5 millilitres) of baking soda to 2 cups (500 millilitres) of distilled or boiled and cooled water. Fill a squeeze bottle or a nasal cleansing pot (such as a neti pot) with the nasal wash. Then gently put the tip into your child's nostril, and have your child lean over the sink. Your child's mouth should be open as you gently squirt the liquid into the nose. Repeat on the other side.
  • If your child is too young or not able to do saline nasal washes, you can use over-the-counter saline nasal drops or sprays. A soft rubber bulb syringe can also be used to help clean out mucus.
  • If needed, give acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for fever, pain, or fussiness. Read and follow all instructions on the label. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 18. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.
  • If the doctor prescribed antibiotics for your child, give them as directed. Do not stop using them just because your child feels better. Your child needs to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Be careful with cough and cold medicines. Don't give them to children younger than 6, because they don't work for children that age and can even be harmful. For children 6 and older, always follow all the instructions carefully. Make sure you know how much medicine to give and how long to use it. And use the dosing device if one is included.
  • Be careful when giving your child over-the-counter cold or influenza (flu) medicines and Tylenol at the same time. Many of these medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Read the labels to make sure that you are not giving your child more than the recommended dose. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • Make sure your child rests and drinks plenty of fluids. Keep your child home if they have a fever.
  • Place a cool-mist humidifier by your child's bed or close to your child. This may make it easier for your child to breathe. Follow the directions for cleaning the machine.
  • Keep your child away from smoke. Do not smoke or let anyone else smoke around your child or in your house.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has new or worse swelling, redness, or pain in their face or around one or both of their eyes.
  • Your child has double vision or a change in their vision.
  • Your child has a high fever.
  • Your child has a severe headache and a stiff neck.
  • Your child has mental changes, such as feeling confused or much less alert.
  • Your child has trouble breathing.
  • Your child has nausea and vomiting that is ongoing.
  • Your child has extreme fussiness or crying that can't be comforted.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • Your child is not getting better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.