© Borgis - New Medicine 2/2002, s. 73-75
Mieczysław Chmielik, Anna Gabryszewska
Clinical aspects of ethmoiditis
Department of Paediatric Otorhinolaryngology, The Medical University of Warsaw, Poland
Head: Prof. Mieczyslaw Chmielik, MD
Ethmoiditis is a condition which any GP may meet in his practice. In this paper we describe the pathomechanisms which lead to acute and prolonged sinusitis in children, the diagnostics, and prognosis. Particular attention is paid to complications, which may be tragic in children. We also consider possible treatments and management when complications occur.
The nose and paranasal sinuses comprise an integral whole, both anatomically and functionally. Infections of the upper respiratory tract are the most frequent disorders of childhood. The term rhinosinusitis has recently been used in clinical practice. The possibility of limitation of this type of infection in children at a developmental age is relatively poor. Rhinitis is usually associated with inflammation of the mucosa which lines the paranasal sinuses.
For a proper understanding of the processes leading to sinusitis, particularly ethmoiditis, it is necessary to summarise our knowledge of the anatomy and development of sinusitis.
The ethmoid sinuses are binate, and consist of groups of small, comunicating, air-filled cavities separated with thin walls. We can divide the ethmoid cells into two groups, anterior and posterior, on the basis of the location of drainage. The anterior ethmoid cells have their ostium at the ethmoid infundibulum in the middle nasal meatus, under the middle nasal concha, whilst the posterior ethmoid cells drain into the superior or supreme meatus. The number of cavities in the ethmoid sinus varies from individual to individual (1).
All sinuses develop by facial bone resorption, and an ingrowth of respiratory mucosa from the nose into these cavities. The ethmoid sinuses are the best-developed at birth, but their walls are not ossified. In clinical practice, it is very important to have a knowledge of adjacent structures. Laterally, the ethmoid cavities are connected with the orbit, separated only by the lamina papyracea. This lamina is not ossified in young children, and may have congenital dehiscences. These factors can promote the spread of infection into the orbital tissues. Ossification of the lamina papyracea begins at 2 years of age, and continues to age 6. The upper border of the ethmoid sinus is marked by the lamina cribosa and the anterior cranial fossa. Between the ethmoid bulla (the largest air cell) and the uncinate process there is a semilunar ostium, that of the ethmoid infundibulum. The maxillary and frontal sinuses drain into the same area (1). This region is known as the ostio-meatal complex, and is of fundamental importance in the development of sinusitis. All pathologies, ostio-meatal unit both functional and anatomical, which impair patency of the ostio-meatal complex may lead to disorders of the whole anterior group of ethmoid cells.
The mucous layer of the paranasal sinuses is a continuation of that of the nasal cavity, but is thinner and has fewer mucus glands and goblet cells. It is covered by stratified ciliated columnar epithelium (1). This, with the mucous layer, is responsible for muco-ciliary transport, one of the main protective mechanisms of the sinus. The active transport of the mucus is from the ethmoid cavity towards the ostium, and then into the nasal cavity. Any anatomical modification of the lateral nasal wall (concha bullosa, Haller´s cells, variations of the uncinate, processus and nasal septum deviation), or disturbance of the ciliary function (congenital, such as Kartegener´s Syndrome, or acquired due to bacterial or viral toxins, allergy, oedema, or locally applied drugs) can impair this transport mechanism (2).
This leads to accumulation of secretions, followed by further damage to the cilia. Lack of drainage and ventilation of the sinuses lead to a progress of the pathological condition. Therefore, a necessary step in the treatment of sinusitis is to open the passages, pharmacologically or surgically. Blood from the ethmoid sinus flows through the anterior and posterior ethmoidal veins to the superior ophthalmic vein, and on to the cavernous sinuses, these being situated on both sides of the sphenoid bone. These veins, like other veins of the face, are valveless. This allows the possibility of direct propagation of an infection from the ethmoid sinus and the orbits to the central nervous system.
The exact time of onset of a complaint in a child is sometimes difficult to estimate. Consequently the crucial criterion of infection is not based on the morphological condition of the mucus in the sinuses. Thus we can distinguish acute sinusitis, acute recurrent sinusitis (after medical treatment, secondary changes are not seen in the mucus), and protrected prolonged sinusitis (in which morphological changes in the mucus develop, and further surgical treatment may be necessary) (2, 3). Generally, acute sinusitis is the result of acute rhinitis. Acute ethmoiditis can be recognised even at an age of a few months, and the ethmoid sinuses are the most commonly infected sinuses in children, due to the fact that these are the most developed and air-filled after birth. Ethmoiditis may have a more severe course than in adults, and may quickly lead to life- -threatening orbital or intracranial complications. This results from the anatomical and functional conditions described earlier. Thus, early recognition of complications is very important, to begin appropriate treatment, or surgery.
The diagnosis of sinusitis is based on the medical history. ENT examination and blood tests are done, and X-rays are taken in justifiable cases. We must stress that X-rays are not the main tool in the recognition of sinusitis in children. The most important factor is clinical evaluation. Acute sinusitis is usually preceeded by prolonged rhinitis. Despite medical treatment, discharge from the nose and an elevated body temperature persist. Older children may complain of headache, which is localised between the eyes at the middle canthus of the eye, or in the temporal region. On examination by anterior rhinoscopy, we can find a muco-purulent secretion in the nasal cavities, especially in the middle nasal meatus, as well as oedema and erythematous mucus. These occur in company with a post-nasal discharge, and impairment of the patency of the nose. A lack of pathological secretion in the nose does not preclude sinusitis, because oedema may totally obstruct the sinus openings, and stop drainage of the purulent secretion. On examination, there are usually signs of pharyngitis or otitis.
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