Sinus infections are miserable. If you’ve ever had one, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Your face feels like it’s going to explode, you can’t breathe through your nose, and you’re blowing thick green goo out every few minutes. Not to mention the coughing, plugged up ears, and loss of smell that many people have.
Sinus infections (also known as sinusitis) are a huge problem and a burden to you as a patient but also to society and the economy. It’s been estimated that sinusitis costs the US economy approximately $5 billion a year due to missed work days and decreased production.
Sinusitis is frequently caused by obstruction of the normal sinus drainage pathway. This obstruction will cause backup of pressure and mucus inside the sinuses which then become infected. Usually the obstruction of the sinus opening is a result of swelling inside the nose from allergies or viral illnesses such as the common cold.
To treat a sinus infection, most doctors will prescribe antibiotics to fight the infection as well as medicines like steroids and decongestants to help open the sinus drainage pathways so the pressure and mucus can clear out of the sinuses.
If you are someone who rarely gets sinus infections, this is probably all you need.
For folks with recurrent sinus infections (3 or more per year) or chronic sinusitis (symptoms lasting more than 3 months), you might want to consider a procedure to widen the sinus drainage pathways. Fortunately, in the past decade, a new minimally invasive procedure called Balloon Sinuplasty has been developed. In the past 2 years, this technology has advanced to the point that the procedure can be easily done in the office with or without light sedation.
Balloon Sinuplasty is essentially a plumbing solution: since the pipes are getting clogged too easily, we can widen the pipes.
Here’s how it works. Everything is done through the nostrils using a thin endoscope for me to see what I’m doing. First, I spend about 20-30 minutes making the inside of your nose very numb. Most patients also choose to get some light sedation so they will be relaxed during the procedure.
Then, I perform the procedure itself. Looking through the endoscope, I am able to find the sinus openings and advance a thin guidewire into the sinus. Once the wire is in place, the balloon slides over the wire through the sinus opening. The balloon is inflated with high-pressure saline fluid to widen the sinus drainage pathway and is then removed completely. A total of 6 sinuses can potentially be opened in this way, 3 on each side of the nose (Maxillary, Frontal, and Sphenoid sinuses on each side).
Here is an animation from Youtube of a balloon dilation of the left maxillary sinus.
After the procedure, there is typically some mild bloody oozing for a few hours and mild pain and pressure for a few days afterward. Most patients are able to return to work the next day.
So what are the benefits? For recurrent sinusitis patients, the goal is for you to have less sinus infections and make them easier to recover from when you do get them. I can’t guarantee you’ll never get another sinus infection again, but I am optimistic that they will be a lot less frequent than before having the procedure.
I have been performing this procedure in the office for about 1 year and have done about 20 of them to this point (in addition to many more in the operating room). I’ve been continually impressed by how well patients have done afterward. The large majority of my patients who have had the balloon procedure are thrilled with the results and describe a massive improvement in their sinus symptoms. I really enjoy seeing the good results and making a positive difference in the lives of my patients.
For more information about the balloon sinuplasty procedure including patient testimonials, see balloonsinuplasty.com.