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Treating Chronic Sinusitis Without Surgery


New procedure treats chronic sinusitis without invasive surgery or drugs

Suzanne Simpson calls it her “never ending nightmare”: years of chronic sinusitis with life-threatening symptoms. When the unseasonably mild winter intensified her condition, and she struggled to breathe, it was time to do something more.

Ben Johnson, MD, a Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital board-certified otolaryngologist (an ear, nose and throat specialist) performed a balloon sinusplasty at the Northwestern Grayslake Surgery Center. Simpson got back her breath—and her quality of life—without invasive surgery or more drugs.

Simpson is a former Illinois state representative who currently holds the elected seat of Warren Township Supervisor, overseeing all of the township’s programs and services. She has lived in Lake County her entire life and delivered her two daughters, Janet and Michelle, at Northwestern Lake Forest. She is also one of the 37 million people who suffer from sinusitis, a common health condition in which persistent trouble breathing, pressure, pain, fatigue and headache are considered as debilitating as chronic back pain or congestive heart failure.

A Proven Alternative to Traditional Surgery

Traditionally, sinusitis has been treated with medication and functional endoscopic sinus surgery or “sinus scraping,” which involves removing small amounts of bone and lining in the sinus cavity to open it wider. In contrast, balloon sinusplasty uses a catheter to insert a tiny balloon inflated just enough to open the passages—similar to the way that cardiologists will use a catheter and stent to open blocked arteries.

“Endoscopic surgery is now seen as more harsh and less effective than balloon sinusplasty, and it carries risks to the eyes and brain,” explains Dr. Johnson. “We’ve learned that we need to leave the normal anatomy alone, and sinusplasty keeps the lining intact. Because there’s no cutting or scraping, there is faster recovery and no serious complications. A little over-the-counter pain medication and the patient is back at work the next day.”

The Benefits of Expertise

In Simpson’s case, the sinusitis was aggravated by lifelong allergies, so she was thrilled to learn that the procedure helps manage ongoing swelling from recurring allergies. She credits Dr. Johnson, as well as board-certified allergist/immunologist Joel Klein, MD, for putting her on a path to easier breathing and a more active lifestyle.

“I’m absolutely satisfied—I can breathe again, and I’m getting back into some of the activities I had put on hold, “ she says. “I heard horror stories about sinus scraping, and I’m so glad I had access to balloon sinusplasty.“

The manufacturer of the balloon sinusplasty instruments won’t allow physicians without significant experience and training to purchase and use the devices. Simpson considers Dr. Johnson’s expertise and his holistic approach key to her recovery.

“He didn’t want to just go in and start cutting— he collaborated with my allergist, Dr. Klein, explained everything to me, and helped me understand how to take better care of myself. When we talked, I was the only person in the room.”

Sinusitis vs. Viruses—Do you need ENT care?

Dr. Johnson notes that many people chalk sinusitis up to a virus, especially since the symptoms are similar to cold or flu: sinus pressure, loss of smell or taste, headache, fatigue, sore throat, mucus discharge and difficulty breathing. Many visit a primary care physician repeatedly for antibiotics to treat the infection.

But sinus infection is more often a secondary problem caused by blocked sinuses.

“The underlying problem is inflammation,” he explains. “The pinholes in your sinuses swell shut, and normal mucus pools there and becomes infected. Balloon sinusplasty opens up that area, the cilia [vibrating hair-like structures] can move material out, and you avoid infection and its related symptoms.”

He recommends seeing an ENT if you have symptoms of sinusitis for more than two weeks, or if you experience them several times each year. An ENT will typically start with a medication regimen. If that does not improve the sinusitis, surgical options are discussed with the patient.


The Northwestern Grayslake Advantage

Balloon sinusplasty and a wide range of other minimally invasive and general surgical procedures can be performed close to home, at the Northwestern Grayslake Surgery Center. Northwestern Grayslake offers a calm, quiet, comforting environment in a beautiful natural setting with many amenities for patients and their families.

“I couldn’t believe I could get such an advanced procedure five minutes from my house,” says Simpson. “Everyone was so wonderful and professional, and the nurses are constantly there for you. There’s no waiting, and it’s a clean, beautiful, calming environment. As a public official, I’m so pleased that our communities have a facility like this.”

The Benefits of Balloon Sinusplasty

Compared with traditional endoscopic sinus surgery, or repeated rounds of antibiotics, balloon sinusplasty offers minimally invasive, long-lasting relief and wellness.

  • Safe and effective
  • Minimally Invasive
  • Local anesthetic
  • Reduced bleeding
  • Fast recovery time
  • Low risk to eyes, brain
  • Long-lasting
  • Does not limit future treatment options
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