WASHINGTON (WUSA 9) -- About 35 million Americans have chronic sinus problems, and they often get worse in the midst of bad allergy season like the one we're in right now.
Chronic sinusitis can cause intense pain and pressure, as well as repeated infections because the sinus cavities don't drain properly.
Diane Sevier describes it this way, "It actually hurts, my head hurts, my jaws hurt, I'm just sick." That is why she has come to see Dr. Michael Abidin, an ear, nose and throat specialist in Alexandria.
Sevier takes allergy medication and decongestants year-round, to try and cut down on her chronic sinus infections. But she still gets them, and needs antibiotics again and again. Dr. Abidin says she's a good candidate for in-office balloon sinus dilation; he did some of the initial work to prove the procedure could be safely moved out of the operating room.
Dr. Abidin says the word 'balloon' is a little misleading; there is nothing soft about this device. Once the doctor threads it up through a catheter into the sinus cavity and inflates the device, the balloon becomes rigid enough to reshape the anatomy, so the sinuses can drain like they should.
"And it actually cracks open the bone and the sinus opening and then as it heals, it heals open," says Dr. Abidin.
That sounds painful, but Dr. Abidin says, with the patient under local anesthesia, it is not. While Diane is being numbed for her procedure, WUSA9 asked a former patient what the sinus balloon feels like.
Brianna Gonzales is from Chantilly, Virginia. She says, "There's no pain during the procedure. You just feel a little bit of the pressure. And you hear a little bit of the cracking noise. But nothing hurtful, or to be scared of..."
And Gonzales says in the three months since she had the procedure, she's experienced no sinus pain, pressure, or infections.
Now it is time for Diane Sevier's procedure. Dr. Abidin uses a tiny video camera to guide the way. You can actually see the light on his endoscope as he moves the balloon to a blocked, or occluded, part of the sinus pathway. Both sides are treated within minutes, and Sevier is ready to head home. Dr. Abidin says she can resume her day-to-day activities in 48 hours.
The recovery time with balloon sinus dilation is certainly less than with traditional sinus surgery; however, Dr. Abidin says some patients with structural abnormalities aren't candidates for the balloon and may still need an operation. He says balloon sinus dilation is almost always covered by health insurance. If not, the procedure costs between $5,000 and $6,000.
Dr. Michael Abidin/Metropolitan ENT & Facial Plastic Surgery