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A Peek Behind the Curtain of Balloon Sinuplasty

There is an astute adage that loosely reads “to a hammer, everything is a nail.” Applied to sinus surgery this means that a procedure may be overutilized to treat conditions outside of its evidence-based efficacy bubble. As an inadvertent consequence of misleading advertising, the balloon sinuplasty procedure has attained mythical status as the cure-all hammer for everything from headaches to the common cold. Case and point, there is a good chance that you, or someone you know, has already had it done for vastly incongruent reasons. In my practice, I have seemingly endless patients inquiring about their candidacy for it. Through no fault of their own, I have found that patients are utterly confused about what it is and if they need it. I thought it prudent to shed some light on the subject by posing and answering three practical questions.

What is the balloon sinus dilation procedure and what condition does it treat?

Balloon sinuplasty is an endoscopic sinus surgery that involves a minimally invasive FDA-approved technology used inside the nose for the treatment of chronic sinusitis and can be performed as an outpatient procedure under local anesthesia and sedation or general anesthesia. Chronic sinusitis, also referred to as chronic rhinosinusitis, is a bacterial sinus infection lasting for more than 3 months and its diagnosis is confirmed by specific findings in a radiographic x-ray study called computed tomography (CT) sinus scan. Balloon sinuplasty works by using a balloon catheter to open blocked nasal passages and sinus cavities thereby augmenting the natural sinus opening and clearing out the sequestered infection. It is typically offered when chronic sinusitis has failed to resolve after other treatment options such as extensive oral antibiotic therapy, topical nasal steroid sprays, and nasal saline lavage. While the benefits of balloon sinuplasty can be remarkable for the right patient and vastly improve quality of life, to be crystal clear: the balloon sinuplasty is only indicated for the treatment of chronic sinusitis, and any other uses are considered experimental.

What chronic sinusitis symptoms indicate a balloon sinuplasty versus other types of traditional sinus surgery?

Some common sinus problems indicative of chronic sinusitis include facial pressure or pain, discolored nasal discharge, ear fullness, postnasal drip with or without cough, chronic fatigue, and reductions in smell and/or taste. The most common sinus symptom is nasal congestion; it comes as a result of swelling and inflammation inside the sinus passageway from the bacterial infection as well as the physical blockage that excess mucous in the nose creates. In addition, many patients have nasal congestion due to unrelated conditions such as allergies, a deviated septum, adenoid hypertrophy, nasal tumors, or enlargement of the inferior nasal turbinate(s). With so many variable causes of similar symptoms, we must rely on objective testing like a CT sinus scan and a nasal endoscopy (looking inside the nose with a small fiber optic camera). Both are done in the office, take less than a few minutes, and efficiently facilitate accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Which surgical specialty performs the balloon sinuplasty procedure?

Most patients are unaware that within the broad specialty of ear, nose, and throat (ENT) surgery there are a handful of super-specialists called Rhinologists who focus only on the inside of the nose. They are the ultimate experts in treating nose and sinus disorders and have successfully completed an additional medical and surgical fellowship in Rhinology to hold this rare distinction. Here is one last parting piece of advice that can’t be stressed enough: unless you enjoy excruciating pain don’t let anyone convince you to do a balloon sinuplasty procedure awake. The best results and highest patient satisfaction come from it being done painlessly in-office under intravenous (IV) sedation assuming your provider has the appropriate accreditation to do so.

Learn More About Balloon Sinuplasty

Hopefully, this clears up some of the mystery surrounding balloon sinuplasty and better informs your future decision-making about it. If you’d like to learn more about balloon sinuplasty, please contact our office today.

Houston Advanced Sinus