Millions of people suffer from constant or repeated headaches, facial pain, fatigue, or stuffy noses. The warm, humid climate here in Richmond means that sinusitis, allergies, and other nasal disorders are very common. The result? Thousands of workdays missed each year, while sufferers attempt to manage their misery.
And the symptoms are miserable: dull, aching facial pain; headache above your eyes; thick yellow, green, or bloody nasal discharge; and achy teeth. Some people have dizziness, bad breath, or constant post-nasal drip. And to make matters worse, some live with these symptoms all of the time, not just when they’re struggling with seasonal allergies or trying to recover from a bad cold.
The problem is that the tissues lining the sinuses, or cavities within the facial bone, swell and normal drainage stops. The fluid is trapped and becomes infected, causing more swelling, more fluid, and more pain. Many people respond to antibiotics, but a significant number of patients have their symptoms return again and again, or they just continue to feel lousy. A recent study showed that up to 60 percent of people suffering with sinus symptoms do not get lasting relief with medication.
Up until recently, patients who were suffering from chronic or repeated symptoms had only one choice: a procedure called functional endoscopic sinus surgery (FESS), performed under general anesthesia. The otolaryngologist or ENT specialist, a surgeon specializing in ear, nose, and throat problems, would remove bone and tissue from around the sinuses in an attempt to open them up, improve drainage, and prevent infections.As with most surgery, work time was lost and pain medication was needed for days after the procedure.
But there has been a giant leap forward in the treatment of sinus problems. Minimally-invasive surgery, (surgery performed through tiny incisions with equally tiny instruments) has been adapted to treat sinus disease with great success.
Balloon sinuplasty, performed in the office with local anesthesia, uses a tiny balloon to open up the air spaces. You may have heard of tiny balloons being used to open up partially blocked heart arteries; the principle is the same in the sinuses.
A small catheter, or flexible tube, is gently inserted through the natural drainage openings of the sinus into the nose. The balloon is inflated and the opening will enlarge with the balloon’s pressure. There is no need to surgically remove any tissue, and the dilated opening gradually re-models its shape so the sinus remains open. Patients are able to drive themselves home, and most don’t even require any pain medication post-procedure.
If you have sinus problems year in and year out or have more than two or three sinus infections in a year, you probably need to see a qualified ENT for an evaluation.This evaluation would include examining the nose and sinuses with a tiny scope. In addition, a CT scan may be recommended. Sometimes a referral to a headache specialist is in order.
Every patient is different, and the ultimate goal is relief. We will always use the least complicated treatments and treat patients as non-invasively as possible to achieve a desired outcome.The good news is, when it comes to sinus problems that can’t be managed with medication, those who need surgery have a far less traumatic – and more effective – treatment.