Health Check: New procedure for sinusitis

Balloon angioplasty for sinusitis

For one solid year, Gina Washington suffered with sinusitis. It totally affected her life.

"I couldn't smell. I couldn't taste, and I was getting bad migraine headaches," Washington said. "Right over my eyes was the worst."

"In terms of health care costs, it costs the country a good $250 million to $300 million a year," said Dr. John Tarro.

Tarro, an otolaryngologist at Memorial Hospital in Pawtucket, explained that sinusitis is an inflammation of the sinus passages.

"And when they get inflamed, the opening to the sinuses can get obstructed and then mucous builds up in the sinuses that gets infected and it leads to pain, fevers and the yellow-green discharge that a lot of patients will come into the office with," Tarro said.

Washington tried over-the-counter medications and was put on antibiotics. Nothing helped. Finally, she couldn't take it anymore and went to Memorial Hospital seeking help. She met Tarro and learned about a new procedure for people who have chronic sinusitis.

"This new surgery is called balloon sinuplasty," Tarro said. "It's quicker. The recovery is a lot quicker, a lot less pain, bleeding, a lot less potential for complications."

Here is how it works. A small cable is fed in to the sinus.

"And it's flexible, so it can follow the natural pathways, which aren't always straight. It goes in to the sinus and then we put a balloon catheter over it, almost like angioplasty in the heart, and the balloon dilates the opening to the sinus. We can even irrigate as well and clear out any mucous within the sinus," Tarro said.

"I was back off running around the third day," Washington said. "I can smell. I can taste. It changed my life, actually."

Tarro said long-term data show balloon sinuplasty is very effective in opening the sinus passages and that for many people, it's permanent.