Sphenoid sinuses: pneumatisation and anatomical variants-what the radiologist needs to know and report to avoid intraoperative complications

Surg Radiol Anat. 2020 Sep;42(9):1013-1024. doi: 10.1007/s00276-020-02490-y. Epub 2020 May 11.


Purpose: Sphenoid sinuses are pneumatised structures, placed in the body of the sphenoid bone, with highly variable morphology. The strict relationships with vascular and nervous structures determine the importance of their anatomical variants in otorhinolaryngology and neurosurgery; a precise understanding of the complex anatomy and anatomic variations of these structures is pivotal for radiological diagnosis of paranasal sinuses pathology and for surgical planning, to avoid potential complications. Our aim is to describe the anatomical variants of sphenoid sinuses, and to help general radiologists and specialists in endoscopic surgery in becoming familiar with these sensitive anatomical structures.

Methods: A literature search of PubMed and Embase (Elsevier) databases was performed using the keywords "sphenoid sinus" and "anatomy, "sphenoid sinus" and "anatomic variants", "sphenoid sinus", and "anatomic variations".

Results: We described the anatomical variants of the sphenoid sinuses anatomy, according to their size, shape, degree of pneumatisation, protrusion of anatomical structures into their lumen, superimposition of ethmoid cells (Onodi cells), and presence of accessory septations CONCLUSION: The information provided by this study may help in the identification and description of the anatomical variations of the sphenoid sinuses and their relationship to neurovascular structures.

Keywords: Anatomic variation; Computed tomography; Endoscopy; Sphenoid sinuses.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anatomic Variation*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Endoscopy / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Intraoperative Complications / etiology
  • Intraoperative Complications / prevention & control*
  • Rhinitis / diagnosis
  • Rhinitis / surgery*
  • Sinusitis / diagnosis
  • Sinusitis / surgery*
  • Sphenoid Sinus / abnormalities*
  • Sphenoid Sinus / diagnostic imaging
  • Sphenoid Sinus / surgery
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed