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A Paediatrician Explains Cold, Sinusitis & Allergies In Children

Given that the immune system of infants, toddlers and children is still in the developmental phase, it’s natural for them to have the common cold. But, parents need to make themselves aware of the difference between a common cold, sinus infection and allergies. While many symptoms overlap among the three, there are some tell-tale signs that you need to watch out for in order to report your child’s condition accurately to their paediatrician.

Common Cold In Children:

Seasonal and usually lasting about a week to 10 days, your child may have a runny nose and sneezing from this viral infection. Other symptoms may include an itchy, sore throat, congestion, and sometimes fever. The nasal discharge is clear and watery, although it could be thick at the peak of the cold.

Sinusitis In Children:

Accompanied by bacterial infection in the sinuses, it has the same signs and symptoms as the common cold. However, in addition, your child may also experience headaches and pain in the sinuses around the eyes and nasal passages. Sore and itchiness in the throat, and congestion are less common during sinusitis.

The gestation period of sinus infection among children can be up to two weeks without antibiotics. The nasal discharge may also be thicker, and yellow, green, or greyish in colour (all signs of infected sinuses). In fact, common colds lasting over 10 days should be assessed for bacterial infections and sinusitis, especially if they are accompanied by fever for more than 2-3 days.

Allergies In Children:

Also seasonal, irritants like an itchy throat, watery eyes, congestion, and throat or nasal passages drying up are key indicators of an allergy. Your child may have these recurring symptoms during particular months, or in a specific environment, or if you’re vacationing or have moved to another city. The nasal discharge is usually more clear, watery and persistent. Your child may even experience facial pain due to the over production of mucus.

With the differences outlined to help you better identify which respiratory illness is bothering your child, we caught up with Paediatric Consultant Dr Deva Kumar of Greenview Medical Hospital for some prevention and treatment options:

Can A Child Develop New Allergies That Weren’t Present Before?

Respiratory tract infections and the second most common condition among children. Allergies can be caused by everyday things like air pollution, exposure to second-hand smoke, pollen, or dust. In fact dust mites (microscopic creatures) can build up around your house without you even knowing it. They could be in your child’s bedding, toys, clothing items, or play areas, giving the child respiratory problems.

Over time, exposure leads to allergic sensitisation and airway hyper-responsive, making your child develop new allergies that weren’t previously present. And if your child is asthmatic, it’s even more problematic because small particles in the air can pass through their nose or mouth and get into lungs, worsening their condition.

How Can One Prevent Viral Common Cold From Turning Into Bacterial Sinusitis?

More common in kids who are in school than infants, sinusitis is an infection or inflammation of sinuses due to oedema or obstruction. Some tips to prevent sinusitis among children include:

  1. No exposure to second-hand smoke.

  2. Don’t let your child eat food or drink water straight from the refrigerator.

  3. Consumption of citrus juices and drinks should be moderated.

  4. Preferably limit your child’s exposure to polluted air by keeping the windows rolled up in the car, or encouraging them to play in greener landscapes for fresh air.

  5. Keep your child out of over-chlorinated swimming pools.

  6. Request the day care or school to encourage parents to make their child recuperate at home while they nurse nasal allergies, infections, or sinusitis.

  7. If your child is having respiratory issues often, consult a doctor to look out for anatomical problems like deviated septum, adenoids, nasal polyps, etc. They can be addressed surgical and provide a lifetime of relief.

  8. Be sure to get your child vaccinated for influenza and other pneumococcal vaccines that can help to avoid repeated respiratory tract infections.

What’s The Treatment For Sinusitis In Children?

Sinusitis is self limiting disease with minimal intervention. Before moving from over-the-counter medication to prescribed antibiotics, try the following to treat your child’s sinusitis and reduce their discomfort.

  1. Steam inhalation to clear nasal passages.

  2. Adequate hydration to keep the nasal passages moist

  3. Topical decongestant to reduce mucous secretions

  4. Warm facial packs or face cloths to relieve facial pain.

  5. Saline nasal drops

  6. Head end elevation when your child goes to sleep

  7. Antihistamines prescribed by a paediatrician

If sinusitis persists and does not seem to improving, consult your child’s doctor about nasal saline irrigation and nasal steroids. Antibiotics are a last resort when it comes to children, and should be reserved for acute/severe sinusitis, toxic symptoms causing the child discomfort and pain, suspected complications, and persistent symptoms that don’t seem to be improving.

Surgical interventions may be required in chronic sinusitis caused by adenoids, nasal polyps and other anatomical problems.

Is Fever Along With Cold A Warning Sign That My Child Needs To See A Doctor?

Running a fever is more common among infants, toddlers and children than it is in adults. In fact, they may develop a fever even if they have a common cold or cough, without bacterial infections or sinusitis. Sometimes kids have a fever without any cold and cough too. And while a rise in temperature is a tell-tale sign your child is fighting an infection, parents should be worried and definitely take their child to the doctor if:

  1. The fever is more than 102°C

  2. Severe headache or vomiting along with the fever

  3. The child is refusing feeds and fluids

  4. Feeling weak and drowsy

  5. The child has not urinated for more than six hours (sign of extreme dehydration)

  6. The fever has lasted more than 5 days

  7. The child has pre-existing conditions like febrile fits, chronic disease of some sort, or respiratory conditions like asthma.

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