Rx for Sinus Woes

Balloon sinuplasty relieves sinusitis with less pain and a faster recover

QUICK QUIZ: What’s the nation’s most common chronic health problem?

ANSWER: Sinus disease.

Chronic sinusitis, a persistent inflammation of the air passages that surround the nasal cavity, affects about 37 million Americans each year, says John Hanna, D.O., an otolaryngologist—ear, nose and throat specialist—at Saint Peter’s University Hospital. And surgery isn’t always the answer. (See “Sinusitis By the Book,” below.) But thanks to a technique for sinus surgery now in use at the CARES Surgicenter, part of Saint Peter’s Healthcare System, patients with the disease have an option that opens blocked sinuses more quickly and safely than traditional procedures, allowing for a faster recovery and return to normal activities.

The technique is balloon sinuplasty, which involves the insertion of a tiny balloon into the sinus cavities. When inflated, the balloon widens the sinus cavities by squeezing the bones and tissues out of the way, allowing the sinus to drain properly and clear any infection. Unlike traditional sinus surgery, it requires no cutting and no removal of bones and tissue. This maintains the structure of the sinus cavity and reduces pain, blood loss and risk of complications.

Dr. Hanna, who has used the technology for several years and is the first surgeon at Saint Peter’s to perform it, says balloon sinuplasty is comparable to cardiac angioplasty. He first inserts a guide wire through the nose to the blocked sinus, then threads the balloon catheter along the wire. “It’s tougher than the cardiac balloon because it needs to move bone and firmer tissues,” he says. He inflates the balloon for only a couple of seconds and can see the result through an endoscope (a thin tube with a light and a video camera).

Most patients can be treated with balloon sinuplasty alone, Dr. Hanna says. Others with multiple growths in the sinuses or blockages in hard-to-reach areas may need both the balloon and traditional surgery. And the procedure can be repeated if blockages return (a possibility also present with traditional surgery).

“Research has shown convincing long-term success rates,” Dr. Hanna says. “My patients are very happy with the results.”


“Chronic sinusitis can be caused by allergies, obstructions or recurrent infections,” says Deborah F. Rosin, M.D., an otolaryngologist—ear, nose and throat specialist. “Medical therapies, including over-the-counter irrigations, allergen reduction, smoking reduction, nasal steroid sprays, antihistamines and antibiotics are usually effective treatments. Only when they fail is surgery recommended.”

Dr. Rosin continues to perform traditional sinus surgery at the CARES Surgicenter, part of Saint Peter’s Healthcare System, in New Brunswick. Performed endoscopically (with a thin lighted tube) under a local or general anesthetic, such procedures involve the removal of infected bone and tissue and the draining of the sinus cavity. The patient is sent home the same day with some packing in the nose, which dissolves on its own in a day or two. “There are no black-and-blue marks and no swelling,” says Dr. Rosin, author of The Sinus Sourcebook (McGraw-Hill, 1999), which explains sinus problems in laymen’s terms.


Related Read: Picture of Health

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