Chronic Sinus Infection: A Modern Surgical Technique that Provides You With a Permanent Solution

Chronic sinus infections involve the blockage of your sinuses, which prevents the natural drainage of mucus from taking place.

Do you awaken every morning coughing, have to blow your nose throughout the day, and feel like you’re stuffed up with a cold, but you don’t have a cold?

You could be struggling with a chronic sinus infection, a very common health issue that afflicts 31 million people in the United States.

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI), “Americans spend more than $1 billion each year on over-the-counter medications to treat it. Sinus infections are responsible for 16 million doctor visits and $150 million spent on prescription medications.”

Individuals with allergies, asthma, structural blockages in the nose or sinuses, and weak or compromised immune systems are at greater risk of developing chronic sinus infections, also known as sinusitis.

Fortunately, there are permanent solutions to the chronic sinus infections you are experiencing. The expertise and equipment necessary to overcome this medical challenge are available to you at ENT Consultants of East Tennessee.

In this post, we’d like to focus on one of those solutions: functional endoscopic sinus surgery (FESS). Before we explore FESS further, let’s lay some groundwork so you’ll have a better understanding of what we’re working to accomplish with this procedure.

Symptoms of Chronic Sinus Infection

Chronic sinus infections have symptoms that are similar to a cold or allergies, such as:

  • Postnasal drip (mucus that gathers and drips down the back of your throat, causing a tickle)
  • Discolored nasal discharge (not clear or white)
  • Nasal stuffiness or congestion
  • Tenderness of the face (usually around the eyes or at the bridge of the nose)
  • Frontal headaches
  • Dental pain
  • Coughing
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Bad breath

What Is Sinusitis?

Your sinus cavities are located in several places in the front of your skull, including:

  • Behind the bony structure of your cheeks
  • Behind your forehead and eyebrows
  • Both sides of the bridge of your nose
  • Behind your nose and directly in front of your brain

Normal functioning sinuses have a thin layer of mucus that traps germs, debris and other foreign particles. Tiny hair-like projections sweep the mucus along with the trapped debris toward openings in the back of the throat, where it drains down into the stomach and digestive system where it is eliminated with other waste from your body.

Chronic sinus infections involve the blockage of your sinuses, which prevents the natural drainage of mucus from taking place. The condition is considered a chronic infection when symptoms last eight weeks or longer.

What Causes the Blockage?

Some people have physical defects that contribute to sinus infection. The most common include:

  • Deformities of the bony partition between the two nasal passages
  • Nasal polyps (benign nasal growths that contain mucus)
  • Sinus openings that are too narrow

These defects make you more susceptible to the blockages that cause chronic sinus infections.

Often confused with rhinitis, a medical term used to describe nasal inflammation and irritation that can be caused by a cold or allergies, sinusitis deals specifically with issues related to the sinus cavities.

Some people with chronic nasal inflammation and irritation can develop a type of chronic sinusitis that is not caused by infection. Individuals with this type of sinusitis typically respond well to medications and non-surgical therapies of various types.

How Are Chronic Sinus Infections Diagnosed?

During your consultation, your doctor will ask about your symptoms, touch your face and nose to locate areas of tenderness, and then look inside your nose using a pin torch (pin light) or otoscope (often used to examine your ears).

Your doctor will work to rule out rhinitis and other conditions using allergy tests or by taking samples of your nasal and sinus discharge (mucus cultures). The purpose of a mucus culture is an attempt to determine what is causing the infection, used most often when your sinus infection has not responded to other therapeutic approaches.

An endoscopy is a thin, flexible tube with a fiber-optic light, which is inserted into your nasal passage so that your doctor can see a deviated nasal septum, polyps, tumors, or other structural deformities.

Further testing may involve a CT scan or MRI to expose the details of your sinuses and nasal area in order to pinpoint a deep inflammation or physical blockage that is difficult to detect using an endoscope.

Common Pharmaceutical Treatments

Before recommending surgery, your doctor will attempt to treat your condition with various pharmaceutical treatments, which can include:

  • Nasal corticosteroids
  • Saline nasal irrigation
  • Oral or injected corticosteroids
  • Allergy medications
  • Aspirin desensitization treatment
  • Antifungal treatment
  • Antibiotics
  • Immunotherapy

If your condition does not respond to these therapeutic treatments, your doctor will begin to consider surgical options, which is where functional endoscopic sinus surgery enters the discussion.

What Is FESS?

The objective behind FESS is to open the sinuses, allowing for normal drainage of fluids to occur, which in turn prevents chronic sinus infections.

You and your doctor will likely decide the procedure is the right option if diagnostic tests have determined that the cause of your chronic infections is a physical obstruction or abnormality, like nasal polyps.

FESS involves the use of an endoscopy with a camera inserted into the nasal passage. The endoscopy will provide the surgeon with images that help target the obstruction and successfully remove it.

Three Advantages of FESS

When it comes down to considering whether surgery is the right option, you make the ultimate decision and you will want assurances that the advantages will outweigh the risks. Here are the three main advantages of FESS:

FESS Is Easier on You

Usually performed as an outpatient procedure, the surgery is performed through the nostrils, making it less intrusive than open surgery.  Post-operative care typically includes flushing the nasal passages to keep debris from building up but may also include antibiotics or steroids to speed up the recovery process.

Your Recovery Time Is Shorter

In most cases, patients return to work or school in about a week and are able to assume their normal routine within about three weeks. During recovery, the tip of your nose, your upper lip, and your gums may be numb for about a week and your sense of smell will be limited for a few weeks, but most people feel completely recovered within a month or two.

The Procedure Delivers the Desired Results

According to an article in American Family Physician journal, “an improvement in symptoms of up to 90 percent may be expected following the procedure.” The article concludes that the procedure is considered successful if the majority of the patient’s symptoms are resolved.

Positive results include relief from facial pain and stuffiness, though postnasal drip often remains a challenge. Compared with the Caldwell-Luc procedure (tends to involve scarring and bruising), both were found to be effective, but there is a strong patient preference for FESS.

Need Relief from Chronic Sinus Infections?

If you awaken every morning coughing, have to blow your nose throughout the day, and feel like you’re stuffed up with a cold but don’t have a cold, you could be experiencing a chronic sinus infection.

Without the help of a healthcare professional like the doctors at ENT Consultants of East Tennessee, the condition has the potential to lead to other critical health issues as well as reduce your quality of life.

Click here to learn more about the solutions available to you for chronic sinus infections.

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S. Mark Overholt, M.D.

Mark grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, and went to Webb School of Knoxville for High School and Stanford University As a general otolaryngologist and head and neck surgeon, like many others in the team, he sees patients for half of the day and operates the other half of the day. Serving as president of the group, he is involved in administration decisions and planning, ensuring the ENT practice is always striving for success. He believes his partners are all well-educated and compassionate physicians and finds it a joy to practice caring for the wonderful people of East Tennessee. Nothing fulfills Mark more than solving a problem for a patient who has been suffering for a while, whether it is as simple as letting them breathe more easily, stopping their sinus infections, or walking through their cancer journey towards a cure. Mark loves his job and is honored to walk out the door with a smile on his face each day. Outside of work, Mark is an avid fly fisherman. He enjoys traveling to new places where he can experience different cultures with his family. He also loves history reading and is a passionate cook.

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