The same concept that heart surgeons use to open blocked arteries is being used to treat patients with blocked sinuses. It does not involve any cuts or stitches, just a guidewire and a small balloon.
Sharla Watson of Westlake was never someone who suffered from allergies and sinus problems. "I felt sorry for people who had them," she said, "but I didn't know the extent of what it was."
But one day, Sharla started coughing. First it was for a day, then a week, then months! Sharla suffered for a year and a half with no relief, even taking prescription medications. "Once I started coughing, I couldn't stop and it didn't matter what I was doing," she said, "I could be eating, talking on the phone, shopping."
When Sharla was referred to Dr. Brad LeBert with ENT & Allergy Clinic, he recognized the symptoms of chronic sinusitis. "A lot of times what starts out as a general allergy problem, the itchy, runny nose - that becomes congested, then leads to a problem with chronic sinus infections," he said.
A CT scan confirmed the problem. In Sharla's sinus cavities, the regions that should show up as black, indicating air, where almost totally blocked. "They were completely full of puss and thickening," said Dr. LeBert.
Dr. LeBert says balloon sinuplasty was chosen as the best possible fix for Sharla's sinuses. "We use a very tiny balloon, similar to the type that they use in heart procedures, to dilate the natural opening of the sinus to promote a healthier drainage of the sinus," he said.
A soft, flexible guidewire is inserted into the blocked sinus and the balloon is then inflated, expanding the opening by six times its normal size. "We're able to do that two or three times across each opening of the sinus, withdraw the entire instrument and remove it from the patient's nose," said Dr. LeBert.
Next, the sinus cavity is rinsed out to prevent a returning infection. "The very night that this procedure was over, there was no more waiting and seeing because I have been wonderful," said Sharla, "it totally changed my life from day one."
Sharla is now sleeping through the night after months of staying up coughing. She says the procedure is not pain-free, but the discomfort is well worth the result. "It hurt a little bit, but the time that it did hurt was so short of a span that I would do this again tomorrow if I had to," she said.
Patients are awake during the procedure under general anesthesia. The in-office recovery time is about four hours.