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Sinusitis and empyema – a rare but life-threatening condition

Posted: 22/05/2023

As Brain Injury Awareness Week (16-22 May) draws to a close for this year, we have reflected on cases in which our clinical negligence team has acted for patients who have suffered complications of acute sinusitis. 

Sinusitis is a relatively common condition involving the inflammation of the lining of the sinuses and generally causes relatively mild symptoms such as facial pain and a stuffy or running nose. However, in rare cases, the infection can spread to the surrounding bone and even around the brain, causing a subdural empyema (an abscess between the skull and surface of the brain). A subdural empyema is a medical emergency and if left untreated can have life-changing or even life-threatening consequences. 

The medical management of a subdural empyema will depend on the severity and extent of spread of the infection but it is likely to include inpatient admission for intravenous antibiotic therapy and surgical drainage of the abscess. The latter may involve either a burr hole (a small hole in the skull to release the fluid) or a craniotomy (removal of a small piece of bone from the skull to expose the brain) to allow adequate clearance of the infection.

The long-term consequences of an infection of this type affecting the brain can again vary in severity. It can impact expressive language, memory, executive function and processing speed as well as fine motor skills.

Lyndsey Banthorpe, an associate in the clinical negligence team, comments: “Timely diagnosis and beginning effective treatment promptly are paramount to ensure the best possible outcome for these types of conditions. Even a modest delay can have devastating and long-term consequences, impacting an individual’s ability to return to work or undertake normal day to day activities.”

To continue the focus on care provided to patients experiencing similar challenges, we will, in an upcoming series of articles, take a deeper look at the issues arising from acquired brain injuries in general. As well as examining the early signs and symptoms and how brain injuries are diagnosed and treated, we will consider the importance of post-injury care and neuro-rehabilitation. 

Watch our newsfeeds over the coming weeks for more.

If you have been affected by any of these issues and would like some professional advice, our specialist orthopaedic injury team is here to offer an informal discussion to let you know what your options are. Please call 0800 328 9545, e-mail or complete our online assessment form.

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