Sinogenic intracranial empyema in children

Noemi Adame, Gary Hedlund, Carrie L. Byington

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


Background. Sinogenic intracranial empyema (SIE) is an uncommon complication of sinusitis that can lead to devastating neurologic sequelae. Early recognition of the clinical findings is critical so that proper management can be instituted. Objective. To describe the symptoms, signs, and laboratory and imaging findings from one of the largest pediatric SIE case series reported. Methods. Descriptive study of a retrospective cohort of all children admitted to Primary Children's Medical Center with SIE between June 2000 and February 2004. Children were identified by a computerized search of Primary Children's Medical Center medical records using the terms "sinusitis" and "brain/subdural/epidural empyema." Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) and C-reactive protein (CRP) values of children with SIE were compared with a group of children with uncomplicated sinusitis cared for in the same health care system as outpatients. The medical records of the uncomplicated sinusitis group were not reviewed for any clinical or radiographic data other than CRP and ESR values. Results. Twelve children with SIE were identified. The median age of children with SIE was 11.5 years. Symptoms were usually present 10 days (median) before diagnosis and included headache (10), fever (11), nausea/vomiting (7), mental-status changes (5), and seizures (3). Physical findings included abnormal neurologic examination (9), Pott's puffy tumor (4), and orbital cellulitis (3). Using the Intermountain Health Care system's computerized database, 142 children with uncomplicated sinusitis treated as outpatients were identified. Children with SIE had markedly higher CRP levels (median: 10.05 mg/dL) and ESRs (median: 87 mm/hour) than those with uncomplicated sinusitis (median CRP: 0.7 mg/dL; median ESR: 6 mm/hour). Four children had hyperglycemia. Four children had a lumbar puncture at presentation, and the findings were normal for all of them. Craniofacial imaging included computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). SIE was not detected in 4 patients who had nonenhanced CT. Axial imaging alone was unable to demonstrate SIE in 1 child with sphenoid and ethmoid sinusitis, and coronal images were needed to demonstrate its presence and extent. The initial facial/orbital imaging studies in 2 patients with physical signs of complicated sinusitis (orbital cellulitis and Pott's puffy tumor) were not adequate to detect SIE. Using contrast-enhanced head CT or MRI, SIE was diagnosed in all 12 children. Conclusions. Children with sinusitis and any neurologic finding, signs of complicated sinusitis such as Pott's puffy tumor or orbital cellulitis, or persistent headache, fever, or nausea and vomiting after antibiotic therapy should have additional evaluation for SIE. Children with hyperglycemia or diabetes may be at increased risk for SIE. The ESR and CRP levels are markedly elevated in children with SIE and may be useful screening tools. MRI with gadolinium is the preferred method to diagnose SIE. If MRI is unavailable, a contrast-enhanced head CT with axial and coronal planes should be obtained. Nonenhanced CT alone lacks sensitivity, and a normal study may be falsely reassuring.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e461-e467
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2005


  • Brain abscess
  • Computed tomography
  • Intracranial infection
  • Pediatric sinusitis
  • Sinogenic intracranial empyema

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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