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Actinomyces cavernous sinus infection: a case and systematic literature review


A 63-year-old man presented with a 2-month history of progressive right-sided exophthalmos, painful ophthalmoplegia and fevers. As more features developed, he was diagnosed with giant cell arteritis, then Tolosa-Hunt syndrome, and transiently responded to corticosteroids. A bland cerebrospinal fluid and highly metabolically active brain (18F)-fluoro-D-glucose-positron emission tomography suggested lymphoma. Biopsy of the mass showed sulphur granules with Gram-positive filamentous bacteria with Actinomyces-like colonies. Actinomyces cavernous sinus infections are rare and indolent. They often mimic non-infective causes including other inflammatory and infiltrative conditions, vascular and neoplastic causes, particularly lymphoma. Clinicians should consider infective cavernous sinus syndromes in people with a fluctuating painful ophthalmoplegia that responds poorly to corticosteroids. The term Tolosa-Hunt syndrome is problematic and should be retired or used only with reservation.

  • actinomyces
  • cavernous sinus
  • ophthalmoplegia
  • infection
  • tolosa-hunt syndrome

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  • Editors’ commentary
    Philip E M Smith Geraint N Fuller
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    Christian J Lueck

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