Chronic sinusitis is a medical condition which more than 30 million Americans are known to suffer from in any given year, and it’s one which causes a great deal of pain and discomfort to the sufferer, with symptoms that can seriously degrade your quality of life.
Because the condition is chronic in nature, that means it recurs frequently, and some form of treatment is necessary to manage the symptoms caused by chronic sinusitis. Many people experience a combination of symptoms like powerful headaches, a sensation of congestion, persistent sneezing, and a sensation of pressure throughout the facial area and the nose.
While these symptoms may not sound debilitating, just imagine being bothered by them on a regular basis, with only partial relief available to keep you going. In the past, the only permanent solution to chronic sinusitis was a surgical procedure which involved the cutting away of swollen tissue and bone in the nasal area.
However, in 2005 a new procedure was approved by the FDA, known as balloon sinuplasty, which provided a much better alternative to traditional surgery. This discussion will involve an examination of what happens with chronic sinusitis and why the new procedure is so effective at treating it.
Background on Chronic Sinusitis
The bones of the face have eight different sinuses, any of which can become affected by sinusitis, which is an infection that takes place within the sinuses, or the lining of the sinuses. The infection is caused by a blockage of the opening where the sinus would normally drain out, and since that material is prevented from flowing out, it produces all the symptoms experienced by a sufferer of chronic sinusitis.
In some cases, this condition will clear up all by itself without any kind of treatment necessary, while in other cases antibiotics or corticosteroids will help clear up the symptoms. Not all patients, however, can count on this kind of relief, and the infection may last for months and even years at a time, resisting any kind of medicine used to treat it.
When sinusitis reaches this level, it is termed chronic sinusitis to designate its persistent nature. At this point, it would become advisable for a patient to see a specialist known as an otolaryngologist, i.e. a physician who specializes in the treatment of ear, nose, and throat medical conditions.
Study after study has borne out the fact that the impact of chronic sinusitis for many patients can be just as powerful or even more so, as congestive heart failure. Unfortunately, many of the patients afflicted by chronic sinusitis are fearful of undergoing any kind of surgical procedure, simply because of the stigma attached to surgery in general. While in the past, that kind of dread might have been more justifiable, given the nature of surgical procedures on the sinuses, it is certainly not true of balloon sinuplasty.
The Emergence of Balloon Sinuplasty
Ironically, the balloon sinuplasty procedure was developed by a patient who was just like those described above, i.e. someone who had an unreasonable fear of all kinds of surgical procedures and resisted any solution involving surgery. In 2004, the balloon sinuplasty procedure was perfected, being based on the very similar procedure known as angioplasty.
Angioplasty involves the same kind of approach as balloon sinuplasty, in that it accomplishes a dilation of blood vessels which supply the heart, using balloons for the dilation. The major difference between the two is simply the area of focus in the body being addressed, with balloon sinuplasty operating on sinus cavities rather than the heart.
Why Sinus Passages Become Blocked and Symptoms
It’s very easy for sinus openings in the lining of the sinuses to become inflamed, for instance by exposure to pollutants, by allergies a person has, or by any kind of infection. Any of these can lead to a blockage of the sinus openings, and since those openings are only about the diameter of a coffee stirrer, it’s fairly easy to have them blocked up.
The main goal of balloon sinuplasty is to provide a permanent solution to this kind of blockage, by enlarging those coffee-stirrer sized openings, so they don’t become blocked up again in the future. The procedures of the past involved the surgical removal of bone or tissue which was blocking the passageways, but even that was not always successful, because it produced scarring in some cases, which could trigger swelling and inflammation all over again.
How Balloon Sinuplasty Works
Balloon sinuplasty is a much less invasive procedure than surgical procedures of the past which called for the removal of tissue and bone as a means of opening up passageways. In balloon sinuplasty, a small catheter is inserted into the nasal passageway, under the direction of a tiny camera which is used to guide it to the precise location being treated.
Through the catheter itself, a flexible little guide wire is introduced into the sinus cavity, and a tiny balloon is also inserted. The balloon is very slowly inflated, causing a gradual expansion of all the surrounding tissue. It also causes microscopic fractures in the extremely thin and delicate bones in the region of the sinus openings.
The tiny fractures which are introduced, later heal in the position which they have attained during the balloon dilation process, and this is the mechanism which causes a permanent solution to the sinus cavity blockage.
Since these microscopic bones are so tiny, the patient feels no discomfort with them being repositioned, and since only a local anesthetic is used during the procedure, most patients are completely unaware of the repositioning process. Because this is a much gentler and far less invasive procedure than removing bone and tissue to enlarge sinus openings, the recovery time is much faster for people who undergo the procedure.
In most cases, patients are back to normal within a day or two of having undergone balloon sinuplasty. Persons with even the busiest of schedules can thus have the procedure done without having to take time off from work, and with only minimal disruption to their daily lives.
Many people who are in the same category as the person who invented the procedure, can now experience a permanent solution to the chronic sinusitis problems because this procedure is unlike any other traditional surgical procedure. Of course, not all patients are aware of balloon sinuplasty, and it’s also true that not every patient is a good candidate for the procedure.
However, for most sufferers of chronic sinusitis, one of the very best options available in medicine today is a low risk, highly effective procedure known as balloon sinuplasty.