Symptoms of cavernous sinus thrombosis 

The most common initial symptom of cavernous sinus thrombosis is a headache. 

This usually develops as a sharp pain located behind or around the eyes that steadily gets worse over time.

Symptoms often start within 5 to 10 days of developing an infection in the face or skull, such as sinusitis or a boil.

It can be several days, or even weeks, before additional symptoms develop after the headache starts.

The eyes

In most cases of cavernous sinus thrombosis, the eyes are affected. You may experience:

  • swelling and bulging of the eyes  this usually starts in one eye and spreads to the other eye within 24 to 48 hours 
  • red eyes
  • eye pain – which can be severe
  • vision problems – such as double vision or blurred vision
  • difficulty moving the eyes
  • drooping of the eyelids

Other symptoms

Other symptoms of cavernous sinus thrombosis include:

  • a high temperature of 38C (100.4F) or above
  • vomiting
  • seizures (fits)
  • changes in mental state, such as feeling very confused

These symptoms usually occur if cavernous sinus thrombosis is left untreated, or if an infection causing the condition spreads throughout the body.

Without treatment, most people with cavernous sinus thrombosis will become increasingly drowsy and eventually fall into a coma.

When to seek medical advice

You should always contact your GP if you have a persistent and severe headache that you've never had before.

While it's highly unlikely to be caused by a cavernous sinus thrombosis, a persistent headache usually requires further investigation.

You should also contact your GP if you develop any of the eye symptoms described above.

Page last reviewed: 13/05/2015

Next review due: 13/05/2017