A new technology that safely expands sinus openings has proven to also change patients' lives
"This again already?"
If this is your first question when you develop a sinus infection, you may suffer from chronic sinusitis, one of the most common chronic illnesses. Sinusitis is an inflammation of the nasal passages that can cause symptoms including facial pain, congestion, and headache. When the condition lasts two months or more, it is considered chronic.
In the past, sufferers of chronic sinusitis had to either endure an endless cycle of recurring infections and treatments or undergo traditional sinus surgery, which involved the cutting or removal of sinus tissue. Today, an advanced technology is allowing Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) physicians to trade a surgical blade for a balloon.
The Balloon Sinuplasty system, developed by Acclarent, Inc., is a minimally-invasive procedure that results in a permanent change in the structure of the patient's sinus passageways. David S. Oliver, MD, is a nasal and sinus specialist who has seen immense benefits for his patients from this procedure.
"Typically when a patient tells his family that he is undergoing sinus surgery, he or she will get all their stories from the past about black eyes, packed noses, and a painful recovery," Oliver says. "Once they visit my patient after the procedure, they are amazed to find none of those complications. The patients love it."
Dr. Oliver is able to provide a short recovery because the technology does not cut tissue. Instead, the physician uses an endoscope to administer a catheter into the nasal cavity. A light guided wire is then advanced through the catheter to the sinus area that creates the blockage. In the past, Dr. Oliver would need an X-ray machine to verify the position of the wire, but the light guided wire used in this procedure provides transillumination-the light shining through the skin of the cheek or the forehead lets the physician know exactly where the sinus balloon catheter is located.
"Once the balloon is in place, I add a very strong level of pressure, up to 12 atmospheres," Oliver says. The pressure gives the small balloon an incredible solidity and it can immediately dilate the opening from 3.5 to 7 millimeters, depending on the age of the patient.
"It's enough pressure to move bone, and it remodels the outflow passageways," Oliver says. "It doesn't scar tissue in your nose. It allows the function of your nose to occur in its natural form, only now the structure is more conducive to the flow of natural mucus production."
If the patient is being treated exclusively with the balloon sinuplasty system, he or she can usually return to work in one or two days. For patients whose surgery is more involved, the system can still play a beneficial role.
"This technology allows you to cause less trauma to the area, cause less pain and give patients a shorter recovery time, usually five or seven days," Oliver says.
An evaluation from a primary care physician will determine if a patient's sinusitis is chronic, and may include a referral to an ENT. In Dr. Oliver's experience, the balloon sinuplasty has had a major impact on the lives of adults and children who at one time missed school, work, and recreation due to the severity of their symptoms.
"I had one patient that had the surgery on Friday, went to the Richmond Hill Seafood Festival on Saturday, and showed up to work on Monday, still feeling a little sore but well enough to work," Oliver says. "Patients enjoy that sort of recovery."