Balloon Sinuplasty

New Procedure Offers Relief From Chronic Sinus Issues

Something we humans have in common with dinosaurs can cause a lot of problems, but now, there's a way to help.

Dinosaurs, you see, had sinuses just like you and me. Your sinuses – you have 8 total – are hollow, air-filled spaces in your skull.

When paleontologists examined dinosaur skulls, they were surprised to find sinuses there too, but it makes sense: Sinuses make your head less heavy (and easier to move, which was probably pretty important back in dinosaur days). See More >

Along with reducing the weight of your skull, sinuses produce mucus to protect your nose and lungs from pollutants, dust and dirt, and begin the immune response to protect your body against bacteria, viruses, and fungal infections. Your nose and sinuses normally produce about a pint of this mucus each day, which is moved naturally by cilia in the lining of your nose to the back of your throat.

A cold or allergies can cause inflammation in the linings of your sinus, nose, and throat, and keep that mucus from draining. When that inflammation blocks the outflow of the sinuses and becomes infected, it can lead to symptoms of facial pressure and facial pain, persistent nasal congestion and often persistent colored drainage.

Ideally, a prolonged course of antibiotics to kill the infection and steroids to help relieve the inflammation will provide relief.

That medical treatment, unfortunately, doesn't always work. Some people suffer through multiple sinus infections, have single long-standing infections or suffer from cycles of unrelieved pressure in the sinuses with no relief despite the best treatment with medications. Others have seasonal allergies, nasal polyps or exposures to other nasal irritants, which irritate and inflame the sinus tissues for days, weeks, even months at a time. In severe cases, healthcare providers may suggest surgery is needed to overcome the swelling and inflamed tissue blocking the sinuses.

FHN Otolaryngologist Terry Donat, MD, FACS, FICS now offers a more refined, less invasive choice: Balloon sinuplasty, an outpatient procedure proven safe and effective to alleviate the symptoms of chronic sinusitis.

Balloon sinuplasty can be done under local anesthesia, opening up the sinuses with a small instrument about the size of a ballpoint pen refill.

The surgical device is inserted into the blocked sinus as a guide for a tiny balloon which, when visually confirmed in place in the sinus, is inflated to gently expand the sinus opening. When the balloon is removed, the sinus is open and able to drain.

"This procedure offers results that are as good as or better than traditional sinus surgery without the removal of tissue or bone," Dr. Donat says. "The recovery time after the procedure is hours rather than days. Most people can go back to their regular activities in a day or two."

The procedure is a good fit for adult patients who have struggled with chronic sinusitis, Dr. Donat says. "It's not our first line of treatment — but when multiple rounds of medication haven't worked, or for people whose allergies cause that painful pressure and inflammation, we can offer long-term hope for greatly reducing the number of infections, the length of infection, and reduce or eliminate the symptoms both during and between infections."

More than 300,000 people have been helped by the procedure, which is covered by most insurance plans. It's also a reasonable choice for people who are on blood-thinning medications, since little surface tissue injury occurs.

Before recommending the procedure, Dr. Donat works with patients' primary care providers and allergists to complete state-of-the-art diagnostic testing and coordinate medical and surgical treatments. He works to individualize a treatment plan for each patient, while placing a special emphasis on patient education.

"Education empowers patients to take control of their nasal problems and improve their quality of life," Dr. Donat says.

"I'm proud to be able to offer this option to patients in northwest Illinois," Dr. Donat says. "It's not a cure for chronic sinusitis or allergies, but for most people who suffer repeatedly from these conditions, it reduces their symptoms and gives them some much-needed relief."