What Is a Pott's Puffy Tumor?

Nya Bruce

Pott's puffy tumor is a condition that involves a type of bone infection known as osteomyelitis. The infection is in the bone that makes up the forehead, called the frontal bone. In addition to osteomyelitis, this condition also involves a subperiosteal abscess. This is pus that has collected between the bone and the periosteum, which is the fibrous membrane that covers it. It is a condition that can affect both children and adults, although it is more common in adolescents that are 20 years old or younger.

Excessive cocaine use may cause a Pott's puffy tumor.
Excessive cocaine use may cause a Pott's puffy tumor.

The first person to describe Pott's puffy tumor was a British surgeon by the name of Sir Percivall Pott. Pott, for whom the condition was named, documented the condition in the mid-1800s. Additionally, the “puffy” portion of the name Pott's puffy tumor, stands for the forehead swelling that is associated with the condition.

Pott's puffy tumor is most commonly diagnosed through an MRI or CT scan.
Pott's puffy tumor is most commonly diagnosed through an MRI or CT scan.

Most of the time Pott's puffy tumors are caused by bacteria, such as certain species of streptococcus or staphylococcus, the same bacteria that often cause bacterial sinusitis. From that infection a subperiosteal abscess forms; and if the infection spreads it may also result in epidural abscess. This potentially dangerous type of abscess is an accumulation of pus that gathers between the bones of the skull and the membrane that covers the brain. Although acute bacterial frontal sinusitis is the most common cause of the condition, it is not the only possible cause. In other cases, an injury to the head or chronic abuse of methamphetamines or cocaine within the nose, may be an underlying cause.

Osteomyelitis may cause swelling of the ankles and feet.
Osteomyelitis may cause swelling of the ankles and feet.

There are several indications that a person may have this condition. The most obvious and common sign is swelling that occurs on the forehead region or above the bony area that surrounds the eye. For some, this swelling is the only visible sign, however there are other potential indications that may present themselves. A doctor should consider Pott's puffy tumor when his patient complains of headaches that persist, fever or vomiting. In some infrequent cases, seizures may also be a symptom.

The elderly are susceptible to developing osteomyelitis.
The elderly are susceptible to developing osteomyelitis.

Before it can be treated properly, Pott's puffy tumor must first be accurately diagnosed. A doctor will typically do this by performing a Computed Tomography (CT) scan or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) of the head. Once the diagnosis has been made the patient is started on an antibiotic treatment that is administered into a vein. The general course of treatment with the antibiotics is six weeks. In order to reduce the forehead swelling, the doctor will also perform a surgical procedure to drain the abscess.

Acute bacterial frontal sinusitis is the most common cause of Pott's puffy tumor.
Acute bacterial frontal sinusitis is the most common cause of Pott's puffy tumor.

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