Silent Sinus Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Medically Reviewed on 5/12/2023

What is silent sinus syndrome?

Silent sinus syndrome (SSS) is a rare condition characterized by spontaneous, painless enophthalmos (sinking of the eye into the orbit), and hypoglobus (drooping of the eye). SSS can have significant effects on facial symmetry and overall quality of life.

Individuals of all ages and sex can be affected; however, people aged 30 to 60 years are more commonly affected by SSS. The exact cause of SSS is not fully understood. Still, it is believed to be related to chronic, low-grade inflammation of the maxillary sinus lining (sinusitis), which can lead to erosion of the bone around the sinus.

The gradual collapse of the maxillary sinus—located in the cheekbone area of the face—subsequently affects the orbital architecture and leads to enophthalmos and hypoglobus. Some possible underlying causes include chronic sinusitis, prior nasal or sinus surgery, nasal tumors, or trauma to the face.

Early diagnosis of SSS is crucial as it can help prevent further damage to the affected sinus, improve the chances of successful treatment with minimal invasion and help restore normal sinus function and facial symmetry. SSS can be a progressive condition and lead to more severe drooping of the eye and other facial asymmetries. Moreover, early diagnosis helps detect underlying causes such as chronic sinusitis or nasal tumors that require prompt treatment to improve overall sinus and respiratory health.

Early treatment improves the chances of successfully restoring normal sinus function and facial symmetry. It can help prevent complications such as vision problems, facial pain, and infections. It also helps with psychological well-being and quality of life as facial asymmetries caused by SSS can cause significant distress and self-consciousness, especially in social and professional settings.

What is the cause of silent sinus syndrome?

The exact causes of silent sinus syndrome (SSS) are not well understood, but there are several theories about what may contribute to the development of this condition.

Today's prevalent idea includes maxillary sinus hypoventilation caused by ostiomeatal complex (OMC) blockage. OMC is a group of structures that help with mucus drainage and airflow between the maxillary sinus, anterior ethmoid air cells, and frontal sinus. With obstruction in the OMC, sinus drainage is blocked. This may lead to a buildup of negative pressure within the sinus. This pressure causes the sinus walls to bend inward, resulting in maxillary sinus atelectasis.

Chronic inflammation or infection of the maxillary sinus may also lead to thinning or weakening of the sinus walls, which can cause them to collapse inward and reduce the sinus volume.

In some cases, SSS may be associated with trauma to the face or nose, such as a previous injury or surgery. Trauma can cause structural damage to the sinus walls or alter the position of the orbital floor, contributing to the development of SSS.

Although the main issue lies within the sinuses, people often arrive with enophthalmos, with few reporting sinus illness symptoms.

What are the signs and symptoms of silent sinus syndrome?

The signs and symptoms of silent sinus syndrome can vary from person to person, but some of the most common ones include:

  • Facial asymmetry
    • Enophthalmos (sinking of the eye into the orbit)
    • Hypoglobus (drooping of the eye)
  • Vision problems
  • Nasal congestion on the affected side
  • Pressure and fullness in the affected sinus pressure
  • Facial pain or discomfort

How is silent sinus syndrome diagnosed?

The diagnosis of silent sinus syndrome (SSS) typically involves a combination of physical examination, imaging studies, and other diagnostic tests.

After noting a thorough history, your doctor conducts a physical examination to assess your nasal and facial structures to look for signs of facial asymmetries, such as drooping of one eye and may use a light to look inside your nasal passages and assess the size and shape of your sinuses.

Imaging studies

Your doctor may order radiological studies such as a CT scan or an MRI as they can provide detailed images of your sinuses and help identify any structural abnormalities. The characteristic finding on imaging is a decrease in the size of the affected maxillary sinus, along with thinning or resorption of the sinus walls.

Nasal endoscopy

Your doctor may perform a nasal endoscopy, which involves inserting a thin, flexible tube with a camera into your nasal passages. This can provide a detailed view of your sinus structures and help identify any blockages or other issues contributing to your symptoms.

The diagnosis of SSS can be challenging as the symptoms can be similar to those of other conditions, such as chronic sinusitis or allergies. However, with a thorough physical examination and appropriate diagnostic tests, your doctor can often make an accurate diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment. In some cases, the condition may be discovered incidentally on imaging studies such as CT or MRI scans that are performed for other reasons.


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How do you treat silent sinus syndrome?

Silent sinus syndrome (SSS) is treated surgically, and otolaryngological consultation may be required.

Nonsurgical approaches for SSS typically focus on managing symptoms and preventing further damage to the affected sinus. Medications such as decongestants, antihistamines, or corticosteroids may be prescribed to help reduce inflammation or relieve nasal congestion. These medications can help improve airflow through the sinus and alleviate symptoms, but they are not usually effective in reversing the structural changes in the sinus.

Nasal irrigation with a saline solution to help remove mucus and other irritants can help reduce nasal congestion and promote sinus drainage, relieving pressure and discomfort.

Making certain lifestyle changes can help reduce the risk of SSS or prevent further damage to the affected sinus. Quitting smoking and avoiding potential allergens such as pollen will help reduce the risk of sinus inflammation. Good hygiene practices will reduce infections that can affect the sinuses.

Endoscopic sinus surgery (ESS)

ESS is a surgical procedure that can be used to treat SSS. ESS involves the use of a small endoscope, which is a thin, flexible tube with a camera and light attached to it, to visualize and access the sinuses.

The surgeon makes small incisions in the nasal cavity and with the help of an endoscope, they pass specialized instruments into the cavity to remove any obstructions or diseased tissue in the affected sinus. The surgeon may also use balloon sinuplasty—a technique that involves inflating a small balloon in the sinus to widen the opening and promote better drainage.

The goal of ESS is to open up the blocked sinus and restore normal airflow and drainage. By improving ventilation and reducing negative pressure in the sinus, ESS can help prevent further collapse of the orbital floor and reduce or eliminate symptoms such as facial asymmetry, eye discomfort, and visual changes.

Although ESS is generally considered a safe and effective treatment option for SSS, there is a risk of bleeding, infection, and damage to surrounding structures. You are recommended to use nasal sprays, saline rinses, and other medications to manage inflammation and promote healing.

Follow your doctor's instructions for postoperative care and attend any follow-up appointments to monitor your progress and ensure that your sinus is healing properly.

Dacryocystorhinostomy (DCR)

DCR is a surgical procedure that can sometimes be used to treat SSS. DCR involves creating a new passageway between the tear ducts and the nasal cavity, which can improve drainage and ventilation in the affected sinus.

The surgeon makes a small incision in the skin near the corner of the eye and uses specialized instruments to access the tear duct and nasal cavity. The surgeon will then create a small opening in the bone between the tear duct and the nasal cavity, which allows tears to drain directly into the nasal cavity and promotes better airflow and drainage.

The goal of DCR is to relieve the negative pressure in the affected sinus and prevent further collapse of the orbital floor. Although DCR can be effective in some cases of SSS, it is not always the preferred treatment option. DCR carries some risks, including bleeding, infection, and damage to surrounding structures.

Postoperative care and follow-up appointments to monitor your progress are recommended to ensure your sinus is healing properly.

Prevention and management of silent sinus syndrome

Prevention strategies

There are no specific prevention strategies for SSS, however, there are general measures that can promote sinus health and potentially minimize the risk of its development.

Here are some preventive steps:

  • Nasal hygiene: 
    • Practicing good nasal hygiene can help maintain healthy sinuses. This includes regular rinsing of the nasal passages with saline solution to remove allergens, irritants, and mucus, thereby reducing the risk of sinusitis and potential sinus collapse.
  • Avoidance of nasal trauma: 
    • Avoiding excessive force or trauma to the nose and face can minimize the risk of structural damage to the sinuses. Protecting the face during physical activities or using proper safety gear when engaging in sports can help prevent injuries that may contribute to silent sinus syndrome.
  • Management of nasal allergies and infections: 
    • Promptly treating nasal allergies and sinus infections can help prevent chronic inflammation and subsequent complications. This may involve avoiding allergens, using prescribed medications, and seeking medical attention when necessary.
  • Smoking cessation
    • Smoking damages the nasal and sinus tissues, impairing their normal function and increasing the risk of various sinus-related conditions. Quitting smoking or avoiding exposure to secondhand smoke can help preserve sinus health.
  • Regular check-ups: 
    • Periodic visits to an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat specialist) can help identify any nasal or sinus abnormalities at an early stage. This allows for timely intervention and appropriate management to prevent the progression of any underlying conditions that could potentially lead to silent sinus syndrome.

While these preventive strategies may contribute to maintaining sinus health, SSS is a complex condition with multifactorial causes, and its development cannot always be completely prevented.

If you suspect that you may be experiencing symptoms related to SSS or any sinus-related concerns, it's best to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate management.

Managing symptoms of Silent Sinus Syndrome

  • Nasal decongestants: 
    • Over-the-counter nasal decongestant sprays or drops can help reduce nasal congestion and improve airflow in the affected sinus. However, these should not be used for more than a few days, as long-term use can lead to rebound congestion.
  • Saline Irrigation: 
    • Regularly rinsing the nasal passages with a saline solution can help clear mucus, relieve congestion, and reduce sinus pressure. This can be done using a neti pot, squeeze bottle, or nasal irrigator.
  • Allergy management: 
    • If allergies contribute to sinus symptoms, managing them can be helpful. Avoiding known allergens, using air purifiers, and taking antihistamines or other allergy medications as recommended by a healthcare professional can alleviate symptoms.
  • Steam inhalation
    • Inhaling steam from a bowl of hot water or using a humidifier can help moisturize the nasal passages, thin mucus, and relieve congestion. Adding a few drops of essential oils like eucalyptus or peppermint can provide additional relief.
  • Elevating the head: 
    • Sleeping with the head elevated using extra pillows or an adjustable bed can help drain the sinuses and reduce nasal congestion during sleep.
  • Avoiding triggering factors: 
    • Identifying and avoiding factors that exacerbate sinus symptoms, such as cigarette smoke, strong odors, or dry air, can help manage the condition.
  • Nasal steroids: 
    • Prescription nasal steroid sprays can reduce inflammation in the nasal passages and sinus cavities, relieving symptoms such as congestion, facial pressure, and post-nasal drip. These should be used as directed by a healthcare professional.
  • Surgery: 
    • In some cases, surgical intervention may be necessary if conservative management fails to provide relief. The specific surgical procedure will depend on the severity and individual circumstances but may involve sinus balloon dilation, functional endoscopic sinus surgery (FESS), or repair of the orbital floor.

Consult with a healthcare professional for an appropriate management plan for SSS.

Follow-up care for Silent Sinus Syndrome

Follow-up care is essential to ensure proper healing and minimize the risk of recurrence. 

Here is a step-by-step guide to follow-up care for SSS:

  • Post-operative assessment: 
    • Immediately after surgery, your healthcare provider will evaluate your condition to check for any complications or adverse reactions to the procedure. This assessment may include a physical examination, imaging tests, and discussions about your symptoms.
  • Medication management: 
    • Depending on the specific case, your doctor may prescribe pain relievers, antibiotics, or nasal decongestants to manage post-operative symptoms or prevent infections. It is crucial to take medications as prescribed and follow any instructions given by your healthcare provider.
  • Wound care:
    • Proper wound care is essential for the healing process. You may be instructed to rinse your nasal passages with saline solution or use nasal sprays to maintain proper hygiene and promote healing. Follow the recommended frequency and technique for nasal rinsing or irrigation.
  • Activity restrictions: 
    • Your doctor may advise you to avoid strenuous activities or anything that can increase intraocular pressure, such as heavy lifting, bending over, or blowing your nose forcefully. These restrictions help prevent complications and support the healing process.
  • Follow-up appointments: 
    • Regular follow-up visits are crucial for monitoring your progress and identifying any signs of recurrence or complications. The frequency of these appointments will be determined by your healthcare provider, but they typically occur at intervals of several weeks to several months after surgery.
  • Imaging studies: 
    • Imaging tests like computed tomography (CT) scans or X-rays may be scheduled during follow-up visits to assess the healing of the maxillary sinus and monitor any changes in facial symmetry.
  • Symptoms monitoring: 
    • Pay close attention to any changes in your symptoms or the appearance of new symptoms. Inform your healthcare provider immediately if you experience facial pain, pressure, swelling, vision changes, or any other concerning signs or symptoms.
  • Long-term care: 
    • SSS has a risk of recurrence, although it is relatively low. It is important to maintain regular check-ups with your healthcare provider even after the initial follow-up period to monitor for any potential relapse.

Every individual's situation may vary, and the specific follow-up care plan will be determined by your healthcare provider based on your unique condition and treatment. It is crucial to communicate openly with your doctor and follow their instructions for the best possible outcome.

Medically Reviewed on 5/12/2023
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