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What is a Sphenoid Sinus?

The sphenoid sinus is a cavernous space within the sphenoid bone, located deep in the skull behind the nasal cavity. It's one of the four paired sinus cavities, integral to respiratory function and drainage. Intriguingly, its proximity to vital structures affects our overall well-being. Discover how this hidden chamber impacts your health and why its role is more significant than you might think. What could its condition reveal about your body?
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The sphenoid sinus is an air-filled cavity which surrounds the sphenoid bone in the skull. Everyone has two sphenoid sinuses, with each sinus being around the size of a grape. These sinuses are asymmetrical in shape, and they drain into the back of the nose. Over the course of childhood and adolescence, the sphenoid sinuses grow and settle into their final shapes, with everyone having slightly different patterns in their sinuses; sometimes, sinus anatomy can even be used like a fingerprint to identify someone.

Each sphenoid sinus is located roughly in the middle of the skull, behind the nose and eyes. Like other sinuses in the face, the function of the sphenoid sinuses is not fully understood. They appear to lighten the weight of the skull, and may provide some cushioning from impacts to protect the brain, and they also provide a route for drainage of mucus. In rare cases, the sphenoid sinuses can become inflamed and infected, in a condition known as sinusitis.

A headache behind the eyes is a common symptom of a sphenoidal sinus infection.
A headache behind the eyes is a common symptom of a sphenoidal sinus infection.

When a patient has sphenoid sinusitis, he or she usually develops a headache which can be quite persistent and very painful. A dull pain may also emerge behind the eyes, and the patient can experience a fever and a distinctive nasal discharge. Treatment involves the application of anti-inflammatory drugs to resolve the inflammation, and antibiotics to kill microorganisms responsible. It may be necessary to culture fluids found in the sphenoid sinus to determine the cause of the inflammation.

The sphenoid sinus is an air-filled cavity which surrounds the sphenoid bone in the skull.
The sphenoid sinus is an air-filled cavity which surrounds the sphenoid bone in the skull.

The location of the sphenoid sinus is of interest to some surgeons because it can provide an avenue of entry for certain surgical procedures on the head. This sinus can also develop tumors, which can become cancerous and problematic because this sinus is in close proximity to the eyes and brain. Abnormalities such as swelling or an accumulation of fluid caused by an infection can be seen with the use of medical imaging studies such as MRI which can visualize the inside of the head.

An inflammation of the sphenoid sinus may result in a distinctive nasal discharge.
An inflammation of the sphenoid sinus may result in a distinctive nasal discharge.

Many people go a lifetime without experiencing problems in their sphenoid sinuses. In cases where problems like infections or tumors arise, diagnosis and treatment can be challenging because of the location of the sphenoid sinus. People with a history of sphenoid sinusitis and tumors should also be aware that recurrence is common, and when early symptoms are identified, it is a good idea to inform a doctor of any previous history of problems with the sphenoid sinuses, as this can save time on diagnosis.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

anon1002647

@anon244411

what was the result of your husbands surgery?

anon244411

My husband is suffering with trigeminal neuralgia and has been for several years. Recently an MRI showed that he has a diseased sphenoid sinus on the same side as the pain diagnosed as trigeminal neuralgia. e has had other procedures with no relief from the almost constant pain. He is now scheduled for sphenoid sinus surgery of the left sinus. Wish us well.

anon215553

my vision is a little blurred and i have eye pressure. does this mean i have that kind of sinus infection?

Bertie68

@lovealot - Sphenoid sinus infection is quite rare. Only 3% of those who have sinus infection are the sphenoid type. The most common symptom is a bad head or eye ache that won't go away. Some patients may have blurred vision because the sinus is so near the optic nerve.

The doctor will probably have a CT taken. If it shows that the sphenoid sinus is filled with infectious material, then a specialist will do a surgical procedure. He inserts a fine surgical tool up the nose and gets up to the sinus and drains it. This is the scary part - he has to be very careful to avoid the optic nerve, the pituitary gland, arteries and other delicate body parts. This should take care of the infection.

lovealot

Wow! These sphenoid sinuses are the size of grapes, filled with air, are so different they can be used like a fingerprint ID. And the purpose is really not known. They must have served some purpose during the evolutionary process.

I guess these sinuses do have at least one function - it gives the surgeon a clear entrance into the brain and eye area.

So far, I haven't experienced sinusitis. Those head aches and eye aches must be awful. Thank goodness for antibiotics!

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    • A headache behind the eyes is a common symptom of a sphenoidal sinus infection.
      By: nebari
      A headache behind the eyes is a common symptom of a sphenoidal sinus infection.
    • The sphenoid sinus is an air-filled cavity which surrounds the sphenoid bone in the skull.
      By: boscorelli
      The sphenoid sinus is an air-filled cavity which surrounds the sphenoid bone in the skull.
    • An inflammation of the sphenoid sinus may result in a distinctive nasal discharge.
      By: Ilike
      An inflammation of the sphenoid sinus may result in a distinctive nasal discharge.
    • A sinus infection can be triggered by bacteria, fungus, or a virus.
      By: drubig-photo
      A sinus infection can be triggered by bacteria, fungus, or a virus.
    • Sphenoid sinuses drain into the back of the nose.
      By: Sebastian Kaulitzki
      Sphenoid sinuses drain into the back of the nose.
    • An MRI scan may be conducted to visualize the inside of a patient's head.
      By: EPSTOCK
      An MRI scan may be conducted to visualize the inside of a patient's head.
    • Symptoms of sinusitis include facial pain.
      By: FMTURRINI
      Symptoms of sinusitis include facial pain.
    • Neti pots can be used to cleanse the nostrils and sinuses of mucus and airborne pollution.
      By: Oksana Kuzmina
      Neti pots can be used to cleanse the nostrils and sinuses of mucus and airborne pollution.