FIXING SINUS PROBLEMS WITH BALLOONS – DOES IT REALLY WORK?
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS FROM DR. TOM STARK, M.D.
I am Dr. Tom Stark, Board Certified ENT specialist practicing on Highway 105 between Conroe and Montgomery. I have been in Montgomery County since 1988. One complaint that I treat daily is people with sinus problems. Many of my patients have been successfully treated using balloons to open their sinuses. Many other people who have sinus problems have heard about this form of treatment and have questions. I thought I would write down the most common questions I hear and give some answers that are clear.
What are sinuses? Where are they? What do they do? Why do mine hurt or get infected?
Sinuses are simple hollow areas of the bone of the skull that open and ventilate into the sides or top of the nose. Their walls are made of thin bone covered with a moist skin lining. This lining, called the mucosa, has thousands of small mucous glands. A healthy sinus is slightly damp, but mainly filled with air. Their actual true function is still unknown, but theories include making the skull lighter, insulation for the eyes and brain, and possibly containing a gas called nitric oxide that kills germs and improves blood flow to the brain. The vent openings from the nose into the sinuses are very small, less than 1/16 inch. Any condition that makes the nasal tissues swell, such as allergies, a common head cold or other infections can easily close off those tiny openings. This obstruction of the sinus ventilation leads to a sinus infection. Most sinus infections are short duration, less than two weeks, As the nasal swelling goes away, the sinuses open and your body gets rid of the problem. However many folks have continued nasal swelling with sinus blockage that may last months. This causes facial pain, headache, postnasal drainage, cough and even bad breath. When sinus infections persist in spite of medical therapy such as antibiotics, the next step in treatment is a procedure to fix the clogged sinus vents.
How does an ENT doctor open the sinuses to get rid of the infection?
I did my specialty training in ENT from 1979 to 1983. Being an older doc in my field, I have seen many changes and advancements in sinus surgery. Before 1985 the surgeon would use a light on his head and try to see small openings through the nostrils. The idea then was to remove all sinus tissue then put in lots of packing. Around 1985 we started using video scopes to make the surgery safer and more precise. The closed sinus openings could be opened with different surgical tools. In 2005 a totally new way to open sinuses was approved by the FDA. This involves finding the plugged vent and dilating it open with an inflatable tube, or balloon.
How does the balloon work? How long do the openings stay clear?
The wall between the nose and each sinus is made of eggshell thin bone. When the tiny uninflated balloon is passed into the opening it is expanded with sterile salt water to 6 mm (almost 1/2 inch). The balloon gets hard and creates micro fractures of the bone wall, not just pushing swollen soft tissues. The bone movement creates a larger opening that is usually permanent. Many studies have shown that the improved ventilation size stays open at over 98% for years after performed.
Where is the balloon procedure performed?
Most people have the balloon procedure done in an office setting. That is also what I usually do. The nasal lining is very easy to get numb with medication applied on strips of cotton. This is followed with a few injections that usually are not even felt because of the first medicine. There is almost no bleeding, and people tell me they feel pressure at times, but no real pain. Recovery is quick, with no restrictions on activity after 2-3 days.
How do I know if I would benefit from sinus balloon dilation?
If you have more than two sinus infections a year or have any infection lasting more than three weeks, then sinus balloon therapy has a good chance of helping. Conditions such as chronic nasal stuffiness, post nasal drainage or blocked nose can improve with either the balloon procedure, or other therapies I perform. Also, if I do see you in my office I will get detailed high definition sinus x-rays or CT scan to go over with you personally before moving on to the balloon.
Because of TV and radio ads, I often get asked about the sinus balloon. I believe it is one of many excellent tools that I have available to relieve many people suffering with sinus problems. Please contact my office at 936-582-7000 to schedule an appointment.