Sinusitis and the danger triangle of the face

Before deciding to pursue a career in health law, I began my graduate education in medical school. The things that I learned at Marshall University School of Medicine have certainly been helpful to me in as a Houston, Texas medical malpractice attorney.

One of the things that I learned in my first year of medical school that has stuck with me all these years is the “danger triangle of the face.” The base of the triangle is the lips, with the other two sides meeting between the eyes.

The danger aspect is there because the nose and surrounding areas share a blood supply that can potentially allow an infection to spread to the brain. Learning about this made me wary of potential face infections, from infected pimples all the way to sinusitis.

The potential danger of sinusitis

Generally speaking, sinusitis is the swelling or inflammation of sinus cavities, which are air cavities in the cranial bones. While sinus cavities are normally filled with air, if they are blocked and filled with fluid, they can get infected.

Symptoms of sinusitis include nasal congestion, drainage, facial pain or pressure, and a decreased sense of smell.

Years ago, I represented a Houston-area teenage girl who was a good student and athlete. She started to have some sinus issues, which she and her family thought might be because she was getting worn down from the stresses of school and running track.

As can often happen with sinus issues, it lingered for a few weeks. One day she had a bad headache and felt nauseated. Her father took her to the Houston Northwest Medical Center emergency room, where they did a radiology scan of her head. The radiologist thought she might have a brain tumor and ordered her transferred to Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital, in the Texas Medical Center.

After some additional head scans at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital, the doctors concluded that her sinusitis had spread to her brain. The danger triangle of the face had struck again. What the Houston Northwest Medical Center radiologist thought was a possible brain tumor was actually a golfball-sized abscess, an accumulation of infected pus that the patient’s immune system had walled off.

The treatment involved drilling a hole in her skull to drain the pus, in a surgical procedure called a craniotomy. She immediately felt better and was on the road to recovery. By the way, I got involved to investigate medical malpractice when the nursing staff did not inform the patient’s doctors that her serum level had significantly. This is a dangerous, but treatable, condition called hyponatremia, which is always a potential risk in any head injury situation. You can read more about hyponatremia here.

What you can do

Experts point out that most sinus infections are viral and will often start to improve within 5-7 days. On the other hand, bacterial infections usually stick around longer, and may even get worse at the 7-10 day mark.

They recommend four steps to help with either type of sinus infection: (1) use saline spray 2-3 times per day in each nostril; (2) use a nasal decongestant, like Afrin, for up to three days; (3) drink lots of water—eight 8-ounces glasses per day; and (4) rest.

Importantly, experts recommend seeing a doctor if sinus infections do not start improving within a week. If the doctor suspects a bacterial infection, a prescription for antibiotics will likely be needed. Even after this type of treatment, go back to the doctor if your symptoms linger on.

Based on my experience, chronic sinusitis can be a dangerous, life-threatening situation if the infection spreads to the brain because of the unique anatomy in the danger triangle of the face.

We are here to help

The experienced medical malpractice lawyers at Painter Law Firm, in Houston, Texas, know how to investigate serious injuries from misdiagnosed and mistreated sinus infections. Call us at 281-580-8800, for a free consultation about your potential case.


Robert Painter is an attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas, where he files medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits on behalf of patients and their families. He has been honored with multiple awards, including the prestigious AV designation, the highest recognition granted by Martindale Hubbell.

Robert Painter
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Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.