The nose is a small self-cleaning air conditioning structure designed to filter and modify the temperature of the air for passage to the lungs, and is able to function amazingly well with proper attention. Nasal obstruction is not only bothersome, but may have a significant effect on your general health. The most common causes of obstruction are allergy, infection and anatomical deformities of the internal structure of the nose.
The purpose of nasal septal surgery is to correct the obstructing deformities inside the nose. This usually involves realigning the nasal structure and/or reducing the size of the shelves, or turbinates, so that airflow can pass evenly through each side of the nose. At times, correction of an external nasal deformity may be important in correcting nasal obstruction.
Surgery usually takes from one to two hours and may be done using local or general anesthesia. This can usually be done on an outpatient basis. If nasal packing is used, it is usually removed one day after surgery.
The ear, nose, and throat specialist will prescribe many medications (antibiotics, decongestants, nasal steroid sprays, antihistamines) and procedures (flushing) for treating acute sinusitis. There are occasions when physician and patient find that the infections are recurrent and/or non-responsive to the medication. When this occurs, surgery to enlarge the openings that drain the sinuses is an option.
A recommendation for sinus surgery in the early 20th century would easily alarm the patient. In that era, the surgeon would have to perform an invasive procedure, reaching the sinuses by entering through the cheek area, often resulting in scarring and possible disfigurement. Today, these concerns have been eradicated with the latest advances in medicine. A trained surgeon can now treat sinusitis with minimal discomfort, a brief convalescence, and few complications.
A clinical history of the patient will be created before any surgery is performed. A careful diagnostic workup is necessary to identify the underlying cause of acute or chronic sinusitis, which is often found in the anterior ethmoid area, where the maxillary and frontal sinuses connect with the nose. This may necessitate a sinus computed tomography (CT) scan (without contrast), nasal physiology (rhinomanometry and nasal cytology), smell testing, and selected blood tests to determine an operative strategy. Note: Sinus X-rays have limited utility in the diagnosis of acute sinusitis and are of no value in the evaluation of chronic sinusitis.
Functional endoscopic sinus surgery (FESS): Developed in the 1950s, the nasal endoscope has revolutionized sinusitis surgery. In the past, the surgical strategy was to remove all sinus mucosa from the major sinuses. The use of an endoscope is linked to the theory that the best way to obtain normal healthy sinuses is to open the natural pathways to the sinuses. Once an improved drainage system is achieved, the diseased sinus mucosa has an opportunity to return to normal.
FESS involves the insertion of the endoscope, a very thin fiber-optic tube, into the nose for a direct visual examination of the openings into the sinuses. With state of the art micro-telescopes and instruments, abnormal and obstructive tissues are then removed. In the majority of cases, the surgical procedure is performed entirely through the nostrils, leaving no external scars. There is little swelling and only mild discomfort.
The advantage of the procedure is that the surgery is less extensive, there is often less removal of normal tissues, and can frequently be performed on an outpatient basis. After the operation, the patient will sometimes have nasal packing. Ten days after the procedure, nasal irrigation may be recommended to prevent crusting.
Image guided surgery: The sinuses are physically close to the brain, the eye, and major arteries, always areas of concern when a fiber optic tube is inserted into the sinus region. The growing use of a new technology, image guided endoscopic surgery, is alleviating that concern. This type of surgery may be recommended for severe forms of chronic sinusitis, in cases when previous sinus surgery has altered anatomical landmarks, or where a patient’s sinus anatomy is very unusual, making typical surgery difficult.
Image guidance is a near-three-dimensional mapping system that combines computed tomography (CT) scans and real-time information about the exact position of surgical instruments using infrared signals. In this way, surgeons can navigate their surgical instruments through complex sinus passages and provide surgical relief more precisely. Image guidance uses some of the same stealth principles used by the United States armed forces to guide bombs to their target.
Caldwell Luc operation: Another option is the Caldwell-Luc operation, which relieves chronic sinusitis by improving the drainage of the maxillary sinus, one of the cavities beneath the eye. The maxillary sinus is entered through the upper jaw above one of the second molar teeth. A “window” is created to connect the maxillary sinus with the nose, thus improving drainage. The operation is named after American physician George Caldwell and French laryngologist Henry Luc and is most often performed when a malignancy is present in the sinus cavity.
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Q. How common is sinusitis?
A. More than 37 million Americans suffer from at least one episode of acute sinusitis each year. The prevalence of sinusitis has soared in the last decade possibly due to increased pollution, urban sprawl, and increased resistance to antibiotics.
Q. What is sinusitis?
A. Sinusitis is an inflammation of the membrane lining of any sinus, especially one of the paranasal sinuses. Acute sinusitis is a short-term condition that responds well to antibiotics and decongestants; chronic sinusitis is characterized by at least four recurrences of acute sinusitis. Either medication or surgery is a possible treatment.
Q. What are the signs and symptoms of acute sinusitis?
A. For acute sinusitis, symptoms include facial pain/pressure, nasal obstruction, nasal discharge, diminished sense of smell, and cough not due to asthma (in children). Additionally, sufferers of this disorder could incur fever, bad breath, fatigue, dental pain, and cough.
Acute sinusitis can last four weeks or more. This condition may be present when the patient has two or more symptoms and/or the presence of thick, green or yellow nasal discharge. Acute bacterial infection might be present when symptoms worsen after five days, persist after ten days, or the severity of symptoms is out of proportion to those normally associated with a viral infection.
Q. How is acute sinusitis treated?
A. Acute sinusitis is generally treated with ten to 14 days of antibiotic care. With treatment, the symptoms disappear, and antibiotics are no longer required for that episode. Oral and topical decongestants also may be prescribed to alleviate the symptoms.
Q. What are the signs and symptoms of chronic sinusitis?
A. Victims of chronic sinusitis may have the following symptoms for 12 weeks or more: facial pain/pressure, facial congestion/fullness, nasal obstruction/blockage, thick nasal discharge/discolored post-nasal drainage, pus in the nasal cavity, and at times, fever. They may also have headache, bad breath, and fatigue.
Q. What measures can be taken at home to relieve sinus pain?
A. Warm moist air may alleviate sinus congestion. Experts recommend a vaporizer or steam from a pan of boiled water (removed from the heat). Humidifiers should be used only when a clean filter is in place to preclude spraying bacteria or fungal spores into the air. Warm compresses are useful in relieving pain in the nose and sinuses. Saline nose drops are also helpful in moisturizing nasal passages.
Q. How effective are non-prescription nose drops or sprays?
A. Use of nonprescription drops or sprays might help control symptoms. However, extended use of non-prescription decongestant nasal sprays could aggravate symptoms and should not be used beyond their label recommendation. Saline nasal sprays or drops are safe for continuous use.
Q. How does a physician determine the best treatment for acute or chronic sinusitis?
A. To obtain the best treatment option, the physician needs to properly assess the patient’ s history and symptoms and then progress through a structured physical examination.
Q. What should one expect during the physical examination for sinusitis?
A. At a specialist’ s office, the patient will receive a thorough ear, nose, and throat examination. During that physical examination, the physician will explore the facial features where swelling and erythema (redness of the skin) over the cheekbone exist. Facial swelling and redness are generally worse in the morning; as the patient remains upright, the symptoms gradually improve. The physician may feel and press the sinuses for tenderness. Additionally, the physician may tap the teeth to help identify an inflamed paranasal sinus.
Q. What other diagnostic procedures might be taken?
A. Other diagnostic tests may include a study of a mucous culture, endoscopy, x-rays, allergy testing, or CT scan of the sinuses.
Q. What is nasal endoscopy?
A. An endoscope is a special fiber optic instrument for the examination of the interior of a canal or hollow viscus. It allows a visual examination of the nose and sinus drainage areas.
Q. Why does an ear, nose, and throat specialist perform nasal endoscopy?
A. Nasal endoscopy offers the physician specialist a reliable, visual view of all the accessible areas of the sinus drainage pathways. First, the patient’ s nasal cavity is anesthetized; a rigid or flexible endoscope is then placed in a position to view the nasal cavity. The procedure is utilized to observe signs of obstruction as well as detect nasal polyps hidden from routine nasal examination. During the endoscopic examination, the physician specialist also looks for pus as well as polyp formation and structural abnormalities that may cause recurrent sinusitis.
Q. What course of treatment will the physician recommend?
A. To reduce congestion, the physician may prescribe nasal sprays, nose drops, or oral decongestants. Antibiotics will be prescribed for any bacterial infection found in the sinuses (antibiotics are not effective against a viral infection). Antihistamines may be recommended for the treatment of allergies.
Q. Will any changes in lifestyle be suggested during treatment?
A. Smoking is never condoned, but if one has the habit, it is important to refrain during treatment for sinus problems. A special diet is not required, but drinking extra fluids helps to thin mucus.
Q. When is sinus surgery necessary?
A. Mucus is developed by the body to act as a lubricant. In the sinus cavities, the lubricant is moved across mucous membrane linings toward the opening of each sinus by millions of cilia (a mobile extension of a cell). Inflammation from allergy causes membrane swelling and the sinus opening to narrow, thereby blocking mucus movement. If antibiotics are not effective, sinus surgery can correct the problem.
Q. What does the surgical procedure entail?
A. The basic endoscopic surgical procedure is performed under local or general anesthesia. The patient returns to normal activities within four days; full recovery takes about four weeks.
Q. What does sinus surgery accomplish?
A. The surgery should enlarge the natural opening to the sinuses, leaving as many cilia in place as possible. Otolaryngologist–head and neck surgeons have found endoscopic surgery to be highly effective in restoring normal function to the sinuses. The procedure removes areas of obstruction, resulting in the normal flow of mucus.
Q. What are the consequences of not treating infected sinuses?
A. Not seeking treatment for sinusitis will result in unnecessary pain and discomfort. In rare circumstances, meningitis or brain abscess and infection of the bone or bone marrow can occur.
Q. Where should sinus pain sufferers seek treatment?
A. If you suffer from severe sinus pain, you should seek treatment from an otolaryngologist–head and neck surgeon, a specialist who can treat your condition with medical and/or surgical remedies.
When directed, saline nasal irrigations are recommended to reduce crusting and to keep sinus openings clear. See the following section for more complete details.
Note: the normal saline solution can be placed in a nasal spray bottle for moisturizing the nasal mucosa.