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Sinus 'Balloon' Promises Better Breathing, Fewer Sinus Infections

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- For many people, the symptoms of sinusitis are familiar.

"Fever, a lot of drainage from your nose, you can have pressure in your face and your cheeks," says Dr. Sam Mathur, and ear, nose, and throat specialist.

It's a common reason people get antibiotics.

Jamie Lorelli knows the struggle.

"My sinuses have always been blocked. I can't breathe right, and they're constantly draining. So always clearing my throat. It's very annoying," she describes.

When symptoms come back multiple times in a 12-week period - that's called chronic sinusitis.

"Last year alone," Lori continues, "I was on antibiotics four different times."

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Resorting to repeated courses of antibiotics can have side effects.

That's where surgery comes in.

"The idea there was to open up the drainage pathways in the sinuses, which were frequently clogged or completely blocked," explains Dr. Mathur.

Inspired by balloon procedures in other parts of the body, for example to open up blood vessels in the heart, a sinus balloon was developed.

The doctor numbs the nose with gel and spray and passes a lighted guidewire into the nose and into the sinus. a small balloon over that wire is then blown up to widen the opening of the sinus. patients can go home right after the 45 minute procedure.

"Over the last few years, the technology has been miniaturized enough that the balloons and the scopes to do it have become smaller to the point that it can now be done in the office," says Dr. Mathur.

"I have a family, I have a job, and I don't want to be laid up in bed trying to recover from something for very long," says Lori.

It was FDA approved eight years ago as a hospital-based, operating room procedure...three years ago as an office-based procedure. People with large polyps or a deviated septum are not well-suited for this procedure. Trauma to the sinus tissues, bleeding, and infection are potential risks. It is covered by insurance.

"It causes a significant reduction in the number and frequency and severity of their infections," says Dr. Mathur.

People can feel the doctor working in their nose, but it's not painful. Sometimes they can hear crunching as the balloon expands.

"I understand you can hear some of the sounds, and that makes me a little nervous," says Lori, "popping and cracking."

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