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  • Writer's pictureDr. Koralla Raja Meghanadh

Invasive fungal sinusitis - symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment

Updated: Apr 16

What is invasive fungal sinusitis? How to differentiate it from other types of fungal sinus infections?

Fungal sinus infections are three types, or we can term these stages also, and their occurrence depends more on the person’s immunity and not on the kind of fungus.

  1. Non-invasive fungal sinusitis

  2. Invasive fungal sinusitis a. Granulomatous invasive fungal sinusitis b. Non-granulomatous invasive fungal sinusitis

  3. Fulminant fungal sinusitis - mucormycosis (black fungus), white fungus

What is invasive fungal sinusitis

Most fungal sinusitis cases are non-invasive, and they limit to the nasal cavity (in the nose) and sinuses. However, if immunity gets compromised, a non-invasive infection can transform into an invasive disease. The fungus that infects the skin lining of the nose and sinuses will move into the deeper tissues, thus making it more dangerous. This type of infection that spreads into the tissues is invasive fungal sinusitis. In some, we see a rare symptom where the disease is untreated or incorrectly treated, the infection can also spread from tissues to facial skin. So, in non-invasive fungal sinusitis, the fungus only lives in the sinus cavity. But, in invasive fungal infection, the fungus lives in tissues. Sometimes the patient could be having both invasive and non-invasive infections at different places. For example, the patient could have a non-invasive fungal infection in the nose or maxillary sinus and an invasive fungal infection in other sinuses like the sphenoid sinus. The ENT doctor must carefully check for both.

Difference between Granulomatous and Non-granulomatous invasive fungal sinusitis

Granulomas are well-developed immune system cells present around the fungus and try to fight the fungal infection. If these granulomas are present around the fungal infection, it will be granulomatous fungal sinusitis. Else, it is called non-granulomatous fungal sinusitis. Given the right combination of medicines, recovery is quicker for a granulomatous fungal sinus infection than for a non-granulomatous fungal sinus infection.

How is invasive fungal sinusitis different from fulminant fungal sinusitis?

Mucormycosis and Aspergillosis fungal sinusitis, commonly known as black and white fungus respectively, are invasive fungal sinusitis but come under a subtype called fulminant. Although fulminant comes under invasive, when we say invasive fungal sinusitis we always refer to non-fulminant invasive fungal sinusitis. Immunity is more compromised in fulminant than an invasive fungal infection. In these fulminant infections, the spread is faster, and the infection can double up in hours. Whereas Invasive fungal sinusitis far more time to double up. This characteristic makes them so distinctive that a doctor can easily differentiate these two types of fungal sinus infections based on the timeline of the symptoms, although both infections have similar symptoms. The differentiating feature of fulminant infection is that the disease spreads to the blood vessels.

The mortality rate is higher in the fulminant fungal infection as it can spread faster than invasive fungal sinusitis as fulminant can reach the brain within a few weeks if not treated. Thankfully it will take years for the invasive fungal sinusitis to do the same, giving us time to deal with it. When treated early, the mortality rate of fulminant fungal sinusitis is 30%, but if treated, the mortality rate is almost zero for invasive fungal sinusitis.

The type of fungal infection depends solely on immunity. Low immunity means non-invasive type, very low means invasive type, very very low means fulminant type.

Invasive fungal sinusitis symptoms

The infection can spread from the sinuses to other parts of nearby sinuses, hence here are the invasive fungal sinusitis symptoms.

  • Pain and/or swelling in the eye, nose, teeth, or cheek

  • Vision disturbances – double vision or diminishing vision

  • Loosening of the teeth when the infection spreads to the jaw bone

  • Loss of sensation in the cheek

  • Swelling of the face if it spreads to the skin – a rare condition

  • When it spreads to the brain, the body part controlled by that part of a particular brain area will be affected.

Example: In one of the invasive fungal sinusitis cases seen by Dr. K. R. Meghanadh, the left side of the brain that controls the right arm got invaded by the disease. The infection resulted in paralysis of the right arm.

Invasive fungal sinusitis symptoms and fulminant sinusitis symptoms are the same. Still, an ENT doctor can easily distinguish the symptoms as they progress slowly in invasive compared to fulminant infection in invasive fungal sinusitis.

Diagnosis of invasive fungal sinusitis

Diagnosis of invasive fungal sinusitis is tricky and complicated. Diagnosis involves Histopathology of biopsy. A biopsy is a process of removing a small piece of tissue from the body. A biopsy is a small surgical procedure performed by an ENT surgeon. The type of anesthesia used during the procedure may depend on the location of the biopsy. It can either include general anesthesia or local anesthesia.

For an ENT (ear, nose, and throat) physician, determining the most appropriate location for a biopsy will be a crucial task. This is the challenging aspect of the process. Tests like nasal endoscopy, MRI, and CT scans help in determining the location. The ENT doctor's experience will help find the right part of the body that shows the disease. Various types(invasive and non-invasive) of fungal infections can coexist within the body. An experienced ENT surgeon can accurately identify and diagnose them.

Histopathology involves slicing a tissue sample into thin pieces and staining the cells' structures in these slices. These slices are observed under a microscope. Each disease will have specific signature characteristics when viewed under a microscope. A skilled pathologist may also use other staining methods to identify the characteristics and patterns of different cells to confirm the diagnosis.

The ENT surgeon should give a picture of behavior, symptoms, and nasal endoscopy to the pathologist. These inputs will help the pathologist to make an accurate diagnosis. As per the inputs, the pathologist will look for special fungal stains, as the fungus is not visible in ordinary stains. The pathologist will determine if the infection is in the tissue or surface. If the infection is in the tissue, it is an invasive infection. If it is invasive, the pathologist will look for granuloma formation. In fulminant fungal sinusitis, the fungal mycelia are also visible within the blood vessels.

Invasive fungal sinusitis treatment

Many doctors suggest extensive surgeries for invasive fungal sinusitis treatment. The treatment suggested involves removing parts or disturbing the function of the nose, sinuses, and face. Dr. K. R. Meghanadh opposes these extensive surgeries in the case of invasive fungal sinusitis. His experience taught him that the treatment should rely on antifungal drugs rather than removing the parts of the body which will result in loss of function and cosmetic deformity. The recovery time will depend on the fungal load. Although the recovery is slow, the function of the body is maintained with the least deformity. On the contrary, extensive removal of the invasive fungal disease may result in the loss of certain functions like the smell and gross disfigurement of the face.

However, surgical removal along with antifungal medical treatment is essential in fulminant fungal infections, and the surgery often has multiple sittings. In fulminant fungal sinusitis loss of functions and disfigurement are traded to save the life, as the disease progression is very fast and medicines alone cannot kill the fungus completely. The point to be remembered is in fulminant infections where the fungal load is very high and cannot be tackled by antifungal medication, hence the load is reduced by surgical debridement to the extent it can be managed by antifungals. Whereas, in invasive fungal sinusitis the load is not that high and progression is exponentially slow compared to the fulminant.

Rare cases of infection spreading to the skin

As mentioned earlier, in very rare cases, when either the infection is ignored or misdiagnosed or treated wrongly, the infection can spread from tissues to the facial skin.

Rare extreme example case report by the author

A young lady started developing a swelling on the left cheek at the age of 23 years, which has gradually progressed with disturbance in vision, nose block, headache, and disfigurement of the face. She consulted and took various treatments from allopathy and alternative medicines for two years. She finally planned for surgery by a plastic surgeon.

Invasive fungal sinusitis symptoms, infection spreads from tissue to skin. Diagnosis of invasive fungal sinusitis
Before treatment

At this stage, when she was 25, she consulted the author in 2017 and it was suspected an invasive fungal granuloma. After the investigations with the help of an endoscope, a simple biopsy was performed without a scar on the face. The diagnosis was confirmed, and treatment was started with intravenous antifungals for 32 days and later followed with oral medications. The blood parameters were checked at regular intervals.

Invasive fungal sinusitis treatment with proper diagnosis
After three years of treatment

Currently, facial appearance has improved phenomenally. All the complaints have subsided. Her condition will improve and her face and skin will be normal in two years.

The takeaway from this case

This case study reiterates that disfigurement and loss of function can be avoided and treated with antifungal medication only in invasive fungal sinusitis. Extensive surgery must be avoided, even if the infection is high. In the above case, the only procedure done on the patient was a biopsy which can be considered minor surgery, which was done to get a proper diagnosis only and not for the treatment of the disease.

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Can invasive fungal sinusitis be cured?

Yes, with the proper treatment, we can cure invasive fungal sinusitis. The primary approach for treating invasive fungal sinusitis involves using antifungal medications. Surgical intervention is not recommended, as the antifungal treatment is highly effective in managing the condition.

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