BALLOONS AND SINUSES – WHAT THEY DO AND WHAT THEY DON’T DO
Many patients who come to my office ask me about sinus balloons. They have heard about them through advertising and usually ask if balloons would help relieve their sinus problems. The answer I almost always give is, “Maybe”.
To clarify that answer, I thought it would be a good time to discuss exactly what sinus balloons accomplish and how they do it. As I have written before, sinuses are hollow cavities in the bone of the skull that ventilate into the nose through very narrow passages. These sinus vents are on each side and in the very back of our nasal passages. Anything that causes the nasal tissues to swell such as allergies or a common cold can make these tiny openings swell shut. When that happens it usually causes pressure in the sinuses and can then lead to secondary infection.
Usually these events are of short duration lasting a few days or may be a few weeks. When the allergies or the infection has run its course the sinuses reopen.
Occasionally people with chronic nasal swelling will develop chronic obstruction of the small vents into the sinuses. If medication will not allow them to open, some type of surgical procedure may be performed to enlarge these vents. Sinus surgery has been done since the 1930s and various instruments were devised to enlarge the small nasal to sinus openings. Approximately 12 years ago the idea of sliding a small wire from the nose into the sinus opening and then sliding a balloon over the wire to inflate and enlarge the openings came into practice. It is now accepted as a great tool to relieve obstruction of the sinus passage into the nose.
Therefore, the sinus balloon is very useful in people who have recurring or chronic sinus infections with pressure and headache. However, there are many things that the sinus balloon does not help with. For example many people have obstruction of the nasal air passage and just simply cannot breathe through one or both sides of the nose. This nasal airflow problem has really nothing to do with the sinuses. A sinus balloon procedure will not help people with chronic nasal obstruction. Procedures that I have discussed in the past to straighten a crooked nasal septum or reduce the size of the air filter ridges of the nose, the turbinates, generally are the best to help relieve nasal congestion and obstruction.
Many people have sneezing and a chronic postnasal drip or runny nose. These are usually manifestations of local irritation of the nasal tissue due to allergy. Sinus balloon procedure will not help that at all.
I have personally performed many sinus balloon procedures over the last 12 years. I believe that sinus balloon technology is a great advancement. However, it has its limitations and has to be used for a specific set of problems.