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Minimally Invasive Surgery a Boon to Chronic Sinus Sufferers

January 08, 2013

Did you know sinusitis is one of the most common health problems in the U.S.? In fact, the National Center for Health Statistics reports more Americans suffer from sinusitis than have diabetes, asthma or coronary heart disease.

With sinusitis, your nose is congested and it is hard to breathe. Thick, yellow or greenish mucus may drain from your nose or irritate the back of your throat. Pressure in the sinuses can cause throbbing pain in your face, head, and even your teeth. Your sense of taste and smell are not good, and you feel tired and cranky. Other unpleasant symptoms can include bad breath and nausea.

People often confuse many of these symptoms with a cold or allergy attack. But, if you've tried taking cold or allergy medicine without relief, it's likely you have acute sinusitis, commonly referred to as a sinus infection. If the symptoms last longer than three months, or if they occur more than four times a year, you may have chronic sinusitis, a more serious condition.

Depending on the cause, chronic sinusitis can be treated with antibiotics, nasal steroid spray or other over-the-counter medications. However, studies have shown that, for up to 60 percent of chronic sinusitis cases, medications are not effective. If medication does not treat the condition successfully, another option is surgery.

Conventional sinus surgery is known as functional endoscopic sinus surgery (FESS). It clears blocked sinuses and restores normal sinus drainage by removing bone and tissue to enlarge the sinus opening. With this traditional form of surgery, potential problems for patients include pain, loss of blood and scarring.

A surgical breakthrough

In the last two years, a breakthrough alternative to conventional sinus surgery has become available. The minimally invasive procedure designed to improve the drainage of the sinuses is called Balloon Sinuplasty. It is performed entirely through the nostrils, with no skin incision required.

"Balloon sinuplasty is growing in popularity as a tool we can use in conjunction with conventional surgery or in place of it," said Jason R. Van Tassel, MD, ear, nose and throat specialist with Washington Township Medical Foundation. "Its advantages for the patient are that there is less pain and recovery is faster, often taking about 24 hours. This means people can return to their normal activities more quickly."

Dr. Van Tassel, who is also on the medical staff at Washington Hospital, is one of only a few doctors in the area who perform this safe and effective procedure. It is done in the doctor's office while the patient is under general anesthesia.

With Balloon Sinuplasty, a small, flexible, specially designed sinus balloon catheter is used to open up blocked sinus passageways. The procedure is similar to the way a cardiologist performs angioplasty on a heart patient, using a balloon to open blocked coronary arteries.

Unlike conventional sinus surgery, with Balloon Sinuplasty there is little or no bleeding because no tissue or bone is removed during. That means there is no need for the uncomfortable nasal packing associated with traditional surgery.

Studies have shown that 95 percent of patients who have the balloon procedure experience significant improvement in their symptoms. The long-term goal is for patients to have fewer, less severe sinus infections.

How it works

During Balloon Sinuplasty, Dr. Van Tassel introduces a sinus guide catheter into the nasal cavity. A tiny camera, called an endoscope, helps him visualize the pathway. Then, he inserts a sinus guidewire through the catheter and gently threads it through the sinus passages and into the blocked or narrowed sinus.

When the guidewire is in place, he introduces the sinus balloon catheter over the guidewire and across the target area. Once the correct placement is confirmed, he gradually inflates the balloon to open and reform the area with little or no disruption to the lining or overall structure of the sinus.

After this, the balloon catheter is deflated and removed, leaving the area open for the sinus to drain normally. With Balloon Sinuplasty, there is less trauma to the surrounding tissue and the natural sinus openings are preserved.

Learn more

To find out more about balloon sinuplasty and Washington Township Medical Foundation, visit www.mywtmf.com. To learn more about Washington Hospital, go to www.whhs.com.