Differentiating acute bacterial sinusitis from viral upper respiratory tract infection (URI) is challenging; 20% to 40% of children diagnosed with acute sinusitis based on clinical criteria likely have an uncomplicated URI. The objective of this study was to determine which signs and symptoms could be used to identify the subgroup of children who meet current clinical criteria for sinusitis but who nevertheless have a viral URI.
We obtained sinus radiographs in consecutive children meeting a priori clinical criteria for acute sinusitis. We considered the subgroup of children with completely normal sinus radiographs to have an uncomplicated URI despite meeting the clinical diagnostic criteria for sinusitis. We examined the utility of signs and symptoms in identifying children with URI.
Of 258 children enrolled, 54 (20.9%) children had completely normal radiographs. The absence of green nasal discharge, the absence of disturbed sleep and mild symptoms were associated with a diagnosis of URI. No physical exam findings were particularly helpful in distinguishing between children with normal versus abnormal radiographs.
Among children meeting current criteria for the diagnosis of acute sinusitis, those with mild symptoms are significantly more likely to have a URI than those with severe symptoms. In addition to assessing overall severity of symptoms, practitioners should ask about sleep disturbance and green nasal discharge when assessing children with suspected sinusitis; their absence favors a diagnosis of URI.