Chronic sinusitis is a type of inflammation that can cause long-term congestion, sinus pain, post-nasal drip, and many other uncomfortable symptoms. While treatments like a course of antibiotics, a daily allergy pill, or nasal spray may be enough to relieve symptoms for some, others may be frustrated by sinus problems that never seem to go away.
Fortunately, a procedure called balloon sinuplasty has shown to be an effective and minimally-invasive way to treat chronic sinusitis. Dr. Michael Branch is an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor) who specializes in balloon sinuplasty. He explains what patients should know about this sinusitis treatment option and what to expect during the procedure.
What is balloon sinuplasty, and how does it work?
Balloon sinuplasty is a surgery, but it doesn’t require any incisions or tissue removal. Instead, it’s a minimally-invasive procedure designed to open and drain inflamed sinus passageways by inflating a small balloon. This process helps relieve sinus pressure, congestion, trouble breathing through the nose, nasal discharge, and many other sinusitis symptoms.
ENT doctors adapted this balloon technique from balloon angioplasties, which use a balloon to open up blocked arteries.
When compared to other sinus surgeries, balloon procedures have many benefits, including:
- Faster recovery
- Fewer side effects and risks of complications
- Lower risk of infection
- Shorter procedure time
- No hospital stays (as they often can be performed in the comfort of your ENT’s office)
Who is a candidate for balloon sinuplasty?
Balloon sinuplasty is usually recommended for patients with chronic sinusitis that hasn’t responded to other treatments. “Chronic” is defined as sinusitis that lasts for 12 weeks or longer.
Good candidates for this procedure typically include people who:
- Have chronic sinusitis (long-term inflammation of sinuses)
- Don’t have other sinus or nasal issues, such as polyps or a deviated septum
- Have symptoms that haven’t improved with other treatments or medications
Before recommending surgery, your ENT will ask you about your medical history, examine your nose and sinus openings to diagnose the causes of your symptoms. Your doctor will also order and review a CT scan of your sinuses.
Should I get balloon sinuplasty?
Every patient is different, so you’ll need an ENT’s help to determine if you’re eligible for this procedure. If you haven’t tried other non-surgical treatment options, Dr. Branch often recommends patients start with medication (like antibiotics when an infection is likely, allergy medication, and/or steroid nasal sprays) before moving onto surgery.
And if you’re not a candidate for balloon sinuplasty, there are other treatment options your ENT can recommend to relieve congestion when medication isn’t enough.
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The Balloon Sinuplasty Procedure: What to Expect
If your ENT determines you’re a good candidate for balloon sinuplasty, you’ll be given some instructions to follow before the procedure. Before surgery, you might be asked to stop taking certain medications (such as blood thinners or steroid nasal sprays). Tell your doctor about everything you take, including herbal supplements.
The Balloon Sinuplasty Procedure
Balloon sinuplasty is a minimally-invasive, outpatient procedure. Surgery typically takes around 30 minutes, and you’ll be able to go home right after it’s over.
Some doctors perform this procedure under general anesthesia (where you’re fully asleep), while others use local anesthesia and preoperative sedatives. If you’re under local anesthesia with oral sedation, the process is usually quite painless, though you may feel some nasal pressure.
During the procedure, your surgeon will insert a tiny wire catheter through your sinus passageways. This wire is used to guide a deflated balloon up into your natural sinus openings. The balloon inflates slowly, which opens up the blocked passage into the sinuses. This allows mucus to drain and the sinus to re-aerate itself (receive airflow). Then, the balloon is deflated and removed.
Safety & Side Effects
Balloon sinuplasty is associated with the same general risks as traditional surgery, but without any potential risks of general anesthesia. This procedure has grown so much in popularity because, for patients who qualify, its success rates are as good as traditional sinus surgery—without the need for general anesthesia. Balloon sinuplasty is designed to restore function of the natural sinus openings without aggressive removal of sinus tissue.
There are some minor side effects associated with balloon sinuplasty, including facial pain and swelling, congestion, and bloody sinus drainage. These side effects tend to be mild and fade quickly, although it might take a few weeks for congestion to fade fully.
Dr. Branch says your surgeon will talk with you about any potential safety risks and side effects, as well as how to reduce discomfort and promote healing after surgery.
Recovery After Balloon Sinuplasty
Someone will need to pick you up at the doctor’s office because the oral sedation will make you too sleepy to drive.
The recovery process is usually quick. You’ll be able to return to daily living within a day or two, but it can take up to a month to feel completely decongested. Most don’t feel a lot of pain after surgery, but over-the-counter pain relievers can help if you do feel discomfort.
Here are some tips for the recovery process:
- Don’t blow your nose for the first day. Blowing your nose right after the procedure may cause bleeding. If you experience a lot of mucus drainage or dripping, gently blot your nose instead.
- Avoid high-impact or strenuous physical activity for about a week. You can go back to work or do light exercise (like walking) as soon as 24 hours after the procedure. But, avoid high-impact activities (running, tennis, contact sports, weight lifting, etc.) for one week.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking can interfere with the healing process. Your doctor will likely recommend that you stop smoking one month before the procedure, as well as during the recovery period.
- Follow your ENT’s instructions. Your ENT will give you instructions to follow after the procedure. Be sure to follow them exactly—and don’t be afraid to call if you have questions.
How long does balloon sinuplasty last?
Most patients experience long-term benefits after surgery. One study followed up with patients a year after surgery and found many enjoyed lasting relief from their sinus symptoms. Another study found that only 1.3% of patients required revision surgery after their procedures.
So far, the evidence points to balloon sinuplasty being a long-term fix for many patients with chronic congestion. Since its FDA approval in 2005, balloon sinuplasty has grown in popularity as a treatment for patients with chronic sinus problems that don’t improve with medication.
Learn More: Talk to the Balloon Doctor Today
If you’ve been struggling with chronic sinus problems and want to learn about all your options, it’s time to talk to an ENT for help.
Dr. Branch specializes in performing balloon sinuplasties—and helping patients breathe easier. Patients in New Tampa and Zephyrhills can click here to schedule an appointment with Dr. Branch or call (813) 778-0101.
A musician at heart, Dr. Michael Branch spent time as a rock ‘n’ roll drummer and later as an operating room technician in the US Air Force. After training, he was an active duty ENT medical officer with the US Navy and has been an ENT surgeon for 29 years. He joined Florida Medical Clinic in 2019. Dr. Branch is certified by the American Board of Otolaryngology.
In addition to performing balloon sinuplasties, Dr. Branch specializes in treating hearing loss, ear disease, chronic hoarseness, and other ear, nose, and throat conditions.
Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to substitute professional medical advice. Every patient is different, so talk with your doctor to learn what treatment options are best for you.