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Petrous Apex Effusion: A Clinical Disorder


  • Moisés A. Arriaga MD, MBA, FACS

    Corresponding author
    1. From Pittsburgh Ear Associates, Hearing and Balance Center, Allegheny General Hospital, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., and the Department of Otolaryngology, Louisiana State University Health Science Center, New Orleans, Louisiana.
    • Dr. Moisés A. Arriaga, Allegheny General Hospital, Pittsburgh Ear Associates, 420 East North Avenue, Suite 402, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.
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  • Candidate's Thesis for membership in The American Laryngological, Rhinological and Otological Society, Inc., (Triological Society).


Introduction: Petrous apex fluid accumulations without evidence of acute infection are routinely managed as “leave alone lesions” without potential morbidity. Are petrous apex fluid accumulations (effusions) in the absence of acute infection always asymptomatic without the need for treatment? If petrous apex effusions can produce symptoms separate from acute infections, what are the clinical outcomes in these patients?

Study Design: Retrospective clinical review.

Methods: A retrospective record review of 31 patients presenting with petrous apex effusions was performed with recording of clinical characteristics, interventions, and outcomes.

Results: Eighteen of the 31 patients had clinical symptoms referable to the petrous apex effusion with the following characteristics: indolent and previous infections (4), hearing loss (3), headache and pressure alone (8), facial spasms (1), and positional vertigo (2). Overall, 5 of 18 symptomatic patients resolved with antibiotics, steroids, or positioning maneuvers. Three of five infracochlear drainages produced symptom resolution. Three of four patients undergoing retrolabyrinthine drainage had symptom resolution, and four of seven middle fossa drainages yielded symptom resolution. In contrast, infratemporal fossa drainage procedures did not resolve the patients' symptoms.

Conclusions: Isolated petrous apex effusions are rare, but they can cause symptoms. If medical management fails, surgical drainage based on the location is appropriate. The surgical drainage approach selected (infracochlear, infralabyrinthine, middle fossa, and endoscopic transnasal) should be based on an anatomic consideration of the involved petrous apex air cells (superior vs. inferior) and the relative position of the carotid artery and jugular bulb.