New procedure offers sinus sufferers surgery alternative
Published Sunday, December 20, 2009 10:28PM EST
Until recently, Shawn Blainey was unable to work for days at a time.
Plagued by sinusitis, a severe sinus infection that causes inflammation of the sinuses and nasal passages, he dealt with debilitating symptoms six times a year.
"I would have to stay home and lie down because of the pain and pressure behind my eyes," Blainey said.
Powerful antibiotics provided only temporary relief for the pain and discomfort he experienced. Severe sufferers like Blainey have the option of undergoing Functional Endoscopic Sinus Surgery. In an FESS, bone and tissue are removed to enlarge the sinus openings, reducing the risk of inflammation and infections.
But instead, Blainey opted to undergo a sinuplasty, a radical new procedure that takes a page from angioplasty, a treatment for heart disease.
During the procedure, doctors place a small flexible balloon through the nostril, and up into the blocked sinus passageway. The balloon is inflated, pushing open the blocked sinus, and then deflated and removed to allow the sinus to drain normally.
The procedure, developed about five years ago, results in a permanent widening of important areas leading into the sinuses, while leaving the nose lining unharmed, according to the website of the company that developed the sinuplasty procedure.
Dr. Oakley Smith, chief of otolaryngology at Toronto East General Hospital, says patients usually report improved symptoms.
"Generally speaking, we think sinus surgery has about an 80 per cent success rate. That's defined as afterwards the patient says: 'I'm glad I had the operation, my symptoms are much better.' Not eliminated, but they're better. And what we found with this procedure is we had at least that similar degree of success," he said.
"We found the symptoms of chronic sinusitis, which is stuffiness, headache, facial pressure, difficulty to breathe through the nose - were all significantly reduced," he added.
"If you can't control your symptoms with medication, then this is a possible option for you."
Because the procedure is less invasive than surgery, patients also have a faster recovery time, says Dr. Amin Javer, an ear, nose and throat specialist based in Vancouver.
"The patient will actually recover almost instantaneously," he said. "In fact, there have been cases where this has been done with the patient awake in the office."
However, sinuplasty is not covered by most provincial health plans. Those who want the procedure will have to pay for the balloon itself, which costs up to $1,700.
Still, Blainey said he feels it was worth the investment, despite the price.
"In comparison to all the time I was losing from work, it's a huge savings," he said.
Although Blainey still has the occasional sinus infection, they are milder, and no longer dictate his life.
"It's been a huge, huge improvement for me," he enthused.
With a report from CTV medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip