Sphenoid fungus balls: clinical presentation and long-term follow-up in 24 patients

Author: Leroux E, Valade D, Guichard JP, Herman P

Date: 6 November 2009


Fungus balls are a non-invasive form of fungal infection involving the maxillary sinus in most cases. Sphenoid sinus fungus balls (SSFB) are rare and their clinical presentation is not well described. We intended to define the clinical presentation of sphenoid fungus balls, and retrospectively reviewed 24 cases of SSFB seen at our institution over a 10-year period, identified through pathological reports. Presenting symptoms were separated into three groups: headache, rhinological and asymptomatic. Headaches were subdivided into acute and chronic, unilateral and diffuse. Radiological clues leading to diagnosis were reviewed. Prognosis was determined from medical files or by phone calls. Sixty-seven per cent of patients were female. The mean age at presentation was 65 years. Sixty-two per cent presented with headache, 36% unilateral, mainly in the first trigeminal branch territory. Rhinological symptoms were seen in 21%. In 16% of patients the SSFB was asymptomatic and found during routine tests. SSFB, even if non-invasive, did lead to recurrent bacterial infections and central nervous system complications in three patients. Of 15 patients presenting with headache, 10 were significantly improved post surgery. The prognosis is good, with no recurrence of fungal infection after a main follow-up of 2.3 years. Our study underlines that SSFB present with headaches, often unilateral and in the fronto-orbital region. Proper imaging of the sphenoid sinus is useful in patients with unexplained headache. The neurologist has to be aware of radiological clues suggesting fungal sinus infection, since surgery is the main treatment, with good prognosis and frequent resolution of headaches.

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