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Sinusitis: Couple speaks out on how daughter, 10, died

Sinusitis is a condition in which the cavities around the nasal passages become inflamed. /COURTESY
Sinusitis is a condition in which the cavities around the nasal passages become inflamed. /COURTESY

How much do you know about sinusitis?

The parents of a 10-year-old girl who died from the infection are speaking out to educate many others who are ignorant about the condition.

Richard Mureithi, the father of the late Abigael Wangari said it has been hard on everybody in the family to lose a child at such a young age.

Her mother Maryann Wanja said it started with a cold that just would not go away for the past three years.

“Over the years, I asked about the wet cough during frequent visits to the paediatrician and specialists across Nairobi. Although doctors sometimes seemed concerned, many were reassuring. Kids get frequent respiratory infections, you shouldn’t worry. Nothing showed up on tests, they variously told me,” she said.

Abigael fell ill at least three times a year.

Her parents decided to seek another doctor’s advice. The doctor through definitive diagnosis involving CT scan and endoscopy confirmed that Abby, as she was fondly known, had chronic sinusitis.

“Shortly after she turned 10, a new specialist weighed in. He zeroed in on a key and largely overlooked aspect of her medical history. Then he told us that our daughter was suffering from chronic sinusitis. The doctor said that the disorder can be hard to diagnose as it mimics common, less-severe conditions such as flu,” Maryann said.

Abby started treatment, but two days later she passed on.

So what is it

This is a condition in which the cavities around the nasal passages become inflamed.

Abby’s parents would have preferred that the correct diagnosis had not taken that long.

Early detection might have spared their daughter from an irreversible consequence.

“We would have been able to treat her much earlier,” Maryann said. “The key is awareness.”

Chronic sinusitis is a deadly disease, but Richard says Abby’s case was not contagious.

The couple wants other parents to keep their eyes open in case their children experience similar symptoms such as headaches, fevers, nasal congestions, facial pain, ear infections, or difficulty when breathing.

“I mean even if you just take five minutes to look into what the symptoms are of different sinuses, just to educate yourself a little bit so that when your child has any of those symptoms, you request for definitive tests,” Richard said.


Anatomy of paranasal sinusitis

Dr Faith Mwangi of Sinai Hospital says the paranasal sinuses comprise four pairs of sinuses that surround the nose and drain into the nasal cavity by way of narrow channels called ostia.

Mucus leaving the frontal (forehead) and maxillary (cheek) sinuses drain through the ethmoid sinuses (behind the bridge of the nose), so a backup in the ethmoids is likely to clog the other two types of sinuses.

The sphenoid sinuses are located deep in the skull, behind the eyes.


What triggers sinusitis?

Research shows there are millions of harmless bacteria in our noses. A few creep into the sinuses, they don’t cause trouble, as long as they keep draining into the nose along with mucus.

But if sinus drainage is blocked, glands in the sinuses continue to produce mucus, and the resulting pool of backed-up mucus provides what Dr Mwangi calls “the perfect culture medium.”

When the bacteria grows out of control, causing infection, and the immune system kicks off an inflammatory response.

The result: swelling, which causes a headache and facial pain; mucus buildup, which produces congestion; and an influx of white blood cells to fight the bacteria, which thickens the mucus and may tint it yellow or green.

Other symptoms include loss of smell or taste, cough, bad breath, fever, toothache, and fullness in the ears.

“Sinus blockage can have a variety of environmental, anatomical, and genetic causes, but the main culprit is swelling of the nasal passages produced by the common cold or allergies,” Mwangi said.

Did you know blowing your nose is a good way to let mucus out and it is said the best approach is a nostril at a time by blocking the other.”

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