PUBLISHED: 3:57 PM on Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Outpatient surgery eases sinus suffering
Beth Ford has battled sinusitis for more than five years. When an infection hits, Ford endures headaches, a runny nose, sore throat and coughing.

"When you have a headache all day, it makes it hard to work," Ford said.

The 25-year-old graphic designer has tried prescription medication, nasal sprays and antibiotics, but found little relief. Yet, her condition is not advanced enough to warrant invasive surgery -- an unpleasant operation that removes bone and tissue to open up blocked sinus passageways.

Ford is pinning her hopes instead on a procedure called balloon sinuplasty, now being offered in the First Coast at Baptist Medical Center and Wolfson Children's Hospital.

Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville is also expected to begin offering the procedure later this month.

The minimally invasive outpatient procedure takes about an hour or two, said Scott Scharer, an ear, nose and throat surgeon at Baptist. Patients are typically back at work within a day. Conventional surgery, meanwhile, takes about four hours and requires a three- to four-day recovery period.

Balloon sinuplasty causes less bleeding, less tissue trauma and less post-operative pain than commonly performed endoscopic surgery, proponents say.

In conventional surgery, the surgeon cuts away bone and other tissue to open the blocked sinus. This can lead to scarring, which may, in time, block the sinus opening again.

Balloon sinuplasty costs about 65 percent less than conventional surgery because it requires less time in the operating room, said Ed Hubel, surgical director at Baptist. The procedure is typically covered by private and public insurers.

Sinusitis occurs when the lining of the sinuses become inflamed, usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection. It's an ailment that afflicts more than 30 million people annually in the United States.

The sinus openings become blocked, preventing normal drainage of mucus.

A single episode is called acute sinusitis; one that persists longer than about three months is called chronic sinusitis.

The balloon sinuplasty system uses a small catheter and balloon to quickly open and expand blocked sinuses.

A small, flexible balloon catheter is placed through a nostril into the blocked sinus passageway. The balloon is then inflated to gently restructure and open the sinus passageway, restoring normal sinus drainage and function.

"Instead of cutting and tearing up [the bone], [the procedure] remodels the bone, it moves the bone aside," clearing the sinus passage, said Carlos Fernandez, a spokesman for Acclarent, which manufactures the system.

Balloon sinuplasty, however, is not for everyone.

"It should not be touted as a replacement for a conventional sinus surgery," Scharer said.

"It's really for that person who doesn't need that full surgery, doesn't want that full surgery, but yet is sick of being on round after round of antibiotics and decongestants."

The procedure is also an option for the patients who are too sick to undergo long surgeries or are on blood thinners for chronic disorders.

Scharer recommends conventional surgery over balloon sinuplasty for patients with polyps or abnormal bone formations that block sinus openings.