Health Team

Saline-filled balloon clears sinuses

Posted August 3, 2009 1:24 p.m. EDT
Updated August 3, 2009 6:47 p.m. EDT

— Sinus pain can be relieved by surgery to open up nasal passages, but an effective and less invasive option also exists.

Gerry Davis suffered through cold and allergy symptoms with chronic sinus pain for more than 30 years. Medications didn't help her.

"The biggest problem was a lot of sinus infections. I was on an antibiotic all the time," Davis said.

"The underlying cause is almost always some type of blockage of the natural opening, and the natural openings to our sinuses are very, very small," said Dr. Doug Holmes, a surgeon at Rex Hospital in Raleigh.

Fluid filled Davis' sinus cavities, but three surgeries at Rex to open the blockages offered little relief.

The more serious problem lay in Davis' hard-to-reach sphenoid sinus – "way, way in the middle of your head," Holmes described.

Surgery there is risky, because the cavity is near the brain.

Holmes offered Davis sinuplasty, a less invasive method to open the sphenoid sinus or even the frontal sinus just behind the forehead.

"It's quite safe in that you're going through the natural openings that are already there," he said.

In the procedure, a small balloon is placed on a thin catheter, which is inserted through the openings. The balloon is then slowly inflated with saline. As it expands, it gently breaks bone to enlarge the opening and empty the sinus.

A fiber-optic light tip above the balloon ensures greater accuracy, Holmes said.

"One knows exactly what you're doing in the right spot," he said.

Unlike sinus surgery, sinuplasty is a same-day procedure, and patients can resume normal activity within 24 hours.

Davis said it's the one thing that ever really helped her sinus pain.

"I can tell a big difference," she said.