Health experts urge sinus care this flu season

By Johnny Jackson


Medical professionals are encouraging those who suffer from chronic sinus infections to seek help before their infections get worse.

As the cold and flu season approaches, chronic, sinus-disease sufferers may find the pains associated with the condition increasing in frequency and severity, said Howard Herman, an otolaryngologist and head-and-neck surgeon in Stockbridge.

Herman said that fall, leading into the cold and flu season, is the peak time for people to suffer sinus infections, a condition also known as sinusitis.

"Often sinus infection will follow a cold, and the sinus will become inflamed," he said. "People, who are smokers, and people, who have allergies, are more likely to get chronic sinus disease."

Herman added that those people are likely to show a range of symptoms, from acute to chronic ailments, including: sinus congestion which does not go away, recurring facial pains or headaches, discolored nasal discharges, and a decrease in the senses of smell and taste.

"About 37 million people suffer from sinusitis," said J. C. Warnick, market development specialist with Acclarent, a medical-device company based in Menlo Park, Calif.

"About 80 percent of those people," Warnick said, "actually respond well to medical treatment. For the other 20 percent that don't respond to medical therapy, to get better, they have to have surgery."

Acclarent, which specializes in providing solutions for ear-nose-and-throat doctors, owns multiple patents involving the balloon sinuplasty technology used in many surgeries, he said. Sinuplasty is a surgical procedure that uses less-invasive surgical techniques to provide relief to patients who have blocked sinuses, according to Warnick.

"Roughly 1.2 million people have to have surgery," he said. "About 900,000 people say 'no' to sinus surgery for whatever reason - because they might not be able to take off of work, or they are [afraid] of its side effects."

However, sinuplasty was made available in 2005 as an alternative to traditional sinus surgeries, and is more convenient than the traditional procedure, he said.

"The advantage to the patient is that there is less bleeding, they return to work within 24-48 hours, and they typically take less post-surgery medication for pain," he said.

Herman said the sinuplasty technique involves an outpatient surgical procedure, in which surgeons use a thin wire to thread a small balloon into the sinus cavity, then inflate the balloon to open up the blocked passageway.

"The newer techniques allow us to open up sinuses without having to remove bone and tissue," he said. "It is a sinus surgery, but it is a minimally invasive technique. Afterwards, the patient can breath much better. They will have fewer sinus infections and even more energy."

Herman said he has performed the procedure on nearly a weekly basis for the past two years at Henry Medical Center in Stockbridge.

In addition to the aforementioned symptoms of sinusitis, Herman said people should pay attention to the intensity and frequency of headaches that occur above or between the eyes, or in the cheeks. "If people don't tseat it properly, the problem will progressively get worse," he said.