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November 2015

Pott’s Puffy Tumor Caused by Chronic Sinusitis Resulting in Sinocutaneous Fistula

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Dermatology, Sendai City Hospital, Sendai, Miyagi, Japan
  • 2Department of Dermatology, Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine, Sendai, Miyagi, Japan
  • 3Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Sendai City Hospital, Sendai, Miyagi, Japan

Copyright 2015 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.

JAMA Dermatol. 2015;151(11):1261-1263. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2015.0874

Pott’s puffy tumor was reported first in 1760 as a forehead swelling and frontal bone osteomyelitis in association with an epidural abscess,1 one of the most dangerous complications of frontal sinusitis.2 To our knowledge, however, only 2 cases of Pott’s puffy tumor have been reported in the English dermatologic literature.3,4 Herein, we report a case of Pott’s puffy tumor caused by chronic sinusitis that resulted in a sinocutaneous fistula.

Report of a Case

An otherwise healthy 52-year-old Japanese woman presented with a 2-year history of a swelling of her right upper eyelid, which had discharged pus for the previous 10 months without any trauma to her head. She denied any symptoms, including fever, headache, or nasal discharge. Physical examination revealed an immovable scarlike node, 11 × 7 mm, on her right upper eyelid discharging pus (Figure, A). Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) showed a high signal on the T2-weighted image and a ring enhancement on contrast-enhanced MRI in the right frontal sinus without any abnormal lesions in the orbital or intracranial tissue (Figure, B).

Clinical, MRI, CT and Histologic Features of Pott’s Puffy Tumor
Clinical, MRI, CT and Histologic Features of Pott’s Puffy Tumor

A, The patient presented with an immovable scarlike node, 11 × 7 mm, on her right upper eyelid, discharging pus. B, Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) revealed high signal on the T2-weighted image (left) and a ring enhancement on contrast-enhanced MRI (right), suggesting an abscess in the right frontal sinus. C, Computed tomographic (CT) imaging (left, axial section; right, coronal section) showed an opacification on right frontal sinus, right ethmoid sinus, and right maxillary sinus and expansion of the right frontal sinus and right ethmoid sinus without any bone destruction. D, Histopathologic evaluation of sinus mucosa samples revealed a mild inflammatory infiltrate with fibrosis (hematoxylin-eosin, original magnification ×100). E, High-power magnification of the lymphoplasmacytic infiltrate (hematoxylin-eosin, original magnification ×400).

From these findings, we diagnosed a Pott’s puffy tumor caused by chronic sinusitis that resulted in a sinocutaneous fistula, and we referred her to the otorhinolaryngology (ORL) department. There, she underwent computed tomographic (CT) imaging for bone evaluation, which revealed an opacification and expansion of the right frontal sinus with no bone destruction (Figure, C). She underwent endoscopic sinus surgery and Killian frontal sinus surgery and had a silicone frontal sinus stent placed in the right nasofrontal duct. The histologic examination of the sinus mucosa showed a mild inflammatory infiltrate and fibrosis with few eosinophils and no sign of malignancy (Figure, D and E). At her last postoperative follow-up, the patient showed no relapse of symptoms.


Although the sequence of events is uncommon, recurrent or chronic sinusitis can lead to periorbital or orbital cellulitis, intracranial abscess or meningitis, Pott’s puffy tumor, osteomyelitis, and cavernous sinus thrombosis.2 Percivall Pott first reported a case of a puffy, circumscribed, indolent tumor of the scalp with a spontaneous separation of the underlying pericranium from the skull.1,5 Currently, it is defined as a localized forehead swelling with underlying subperiosteal abscess formation and osteomyelitis of the frontal bone.3,5 Symptoms include frontal scalp swelling, headache, fever, nasal drainage, photophobia, and frontal sinus tenderness.2 Pott’s puffy tumor is a complication of frontal sinus disease or direct injury to the frontal bone.5 Singh et al6 noted that it was a sign of intracranial complications in 85% of 219 patients.6 Both CT and MRI of the head are helpful to determine the presence of intracranial complications.2,5 If there is an intracranial infection, prompt neurosurgical intervention and paranasal sinus trephinations combined with antibiotic therapy are required.2,5

In our case, it took approximately 2 years to make a correct diagnosis because the only symptom was swelling of the right upper eyelid without fever or headache. Consequently, the lesion made a sinocutaneous fistula with the drainage of the pus from the right upper eyelid. The differential diagnosis includes furuncle, infected epidermal cyst, and, if the lesion is near the mouth, external dental fistula. Our case suggested a relatively uncommon Pott’s puffy tumor as the differential diagnosis, since the lesion developed on an upper eyelid.

In conclusion, Pott’s puffy tumor is a sign of a potentially life-threatening infection of the frontal sinus, which may be accompanied by intracranial invasion. We dermatologists should be aware of this pathological condition when patients present with swelling of the upper eyelid or forehead and perform MRI and/or CT promptly on any patients suspected of having Pott’s puffy tumor to rule out intracranial complications.

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Article Information

Corresponding Author: Setsuya Aiba, MD, PhD, Department of Dermatology, Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine, Seriryomachi 1-1, Aoba-ku, Sendai, Miyagi, 980-8574, Japan (saiba@med.tohoku.ac.jp).

Published Online: May 27, 2015. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2015.0874.

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.

Pott  P.  Observations on the Nature and Consequences of Wounds and Contusions of the Head, Fractures of the Skull, Concussions of the Brain, & c. London, England: Hitch and Hawes; 1760.
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