Breathe easy: This diagram depicts the baloon sinus dilation procedure
Illustration courtesy of Entellus Medical
At least 30 million Americans suffer from chronic sinusitis — painful, recurring sinus inflammation or infection that can happen at any time of year, not just during pollen or hay fever season.
“Unfortunately, living in the Hudson Valley really predisposes people to sinus problems,” says Dr. George Pazos, head and neck surgeon with ENT and Allergy Associates in Carmel. “We have an incredible amount of pollinating flora. On top of that, our region has four distinct seasons, with a transition from full summer to full winter — and these temperature transitions also often result in sinusitis.”
While some folks find relief from sinus problems with over-the-counter or prescription medication, others require more extensive treatment — sometimes even surgery — to unblock clogged sinus passages.
In standard sinus surgery, an incision is made through the mouth or face, then tissue or bone is removed, allowing blocked sinuses to drain. Another, less-invasive method known as endoscopy is also routinely used. A small tube is threaded into the nose and up to the sinuses, accompanied by tiny surgical instruments that help unclog the area.
And now there’s a third innovative tool to treat serious sinusitis. Dubbed “the sinus balloon,” it’s based on the same principle as balloon angioplasty, which is used to treat heart disease by expanding narrowed arteries.
“This method is a remarkable advance in treating sinusitis,” says Dr. Pazos, who’s been using it for about five years. The technique, also known as balloon sinus dilation, or sinuplasty, was approved by the FDA in 2005.
One advantage, Pazos says, is that the procedure can often be done in the physician’s office, in as little as 20 minutes, under local anesthesia. “Another benefit to patients is that recovery time is reduced,” he says. “It’s down from about five to seven days for traditional sinus surgery using general anesthesia in a hospital, to about three days.” Most insurance covers the treatment, which in many cases only needs to be performed once for long-term relief.
Here’s how it works: A physician threads a tiny catheter through a nostril into the sinus cavity. A wire attached to the catheter guides a small plastic balloon, which is gently inflated to enlarge the sinus opening and boost drainage. The technique can be done on its own, or along with endoscopy, as needed.
Dr. Pazos says ideal candidates for balloon sinus dilation are those who have suffered with sinus infections for two or three months or longer. “I’ll first treat most patients with antibiotics or allergy medications, and do allergy tests,” he says. “It’s important to maximize medical management before you go ahead with more complex treatment. It’s wonderful to have this method available for the many patients who can benefit from it.”