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The Danger Triangle of the Face

Try wrapping your head around this: Your face is a picking time bomb.
Image: National Center for Biotechnology

Try wrapping your head around this: Your face is a picking time bomb. Try to pop a pimple and you could die.

Of all the crude, pitiless eccentricities of the human body, the danger triangle of the face is arguably the most disconcerting of the lot in that, under rare and perfect conditions, this fleshy trinity can allow retrograde infections to creep from the front of your face to the recesses of your skull, where they lay waste to your brain.


In so many words.

The blood supply to this zone — a pyramid peaking at the bridge of the nose, with sides extending down to the corners of the mouth — is unique (see: rich), for one. But it's also able to course freely between the facial vein and cavernous sinus by way of ophthalmic veins (these drain the eyes), flowing out from the skull and then back in, draining through the internal jugular vein.

Pop a nasal abscess or squeeze a nose-tip boil just right and you've got an intracranial free-flow of noxious fluids that, in extreme cases, can trigger bacterial infections (meningitis, say, should zit pus leak into the brain's blood stream, inflaming the meninges) or stir cavernous sinus thrombosis. The cavernous sinus is a cavity at the brain's base that houses a vein and some nerves, and is bordered by the skull's temporal bone and the sphenoid bone. A blood clot here can be devastating — cutting off blood flow to the cavernous sinus pinches off flows to the rest of your brain.

You'd likely get a thunderclap headache first, but then maybe also swelling of the whites of your eyes or pupils; or bulging, heavy, full-eye redness (gnarly Google image search); uncontrollable eye movement; double vision; vision loss; fever; seizures; confusion or apathy; aphasia; death.

But relax. In all likelihood your head won't ever explode – high-dosage intravenous antibiotics are a virtue worth finding comfort in. (If not meds, surgery may be required to drain the infection.) And yet, writing in 1940, J. William Hinton, then adjunct assistant visiting surgeon at New York's Bellevue Hospital, warned against fingering furuncles: blemishes "…should not be traumatized by squeezing or small incisions. Needless to say, numerous furuncles about the face never lead to serious complications, but in those in which thrombosis of the sinus occur, the prognosis is fatal." Think twice about taking care of that unsightly face mound. Beware the triangle! Hands off!

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ODDITY examines strange and esoteric phenomena and events from the remote, uncanny corners of technology, science and history.