Doctors try balloon fix to end misery of sinusitis?

It's like an angioplasty to clear out clogged sinuses.

A new procedure lets doctors snake a balloon up the noses of chronic sinusitis sufferers, stretching their sinus passages to help them breathe easier with less pain than the standard sinus surgery that thousands undergo each year.

No one yet knows if balloon sinuplasty works as well as a surgical fix. Only about 100 doctors around the country are trained to offer it, and research is just beginning to track its effectiveness and determine who is a good candidate.

But if sinuplasty proves itself, it promises a long-awaited middle ground between medications and surgery for thousands of patients seeking relief from the misery of repeated sinus infections.

"Clearly sinuplasty will not replace surgery for every patient," cautions Dr. Michael Friedman, an otolaryngologist and chief of head and neck surgery at Chicago's Rush University Medical Center, who heads the first study that will compare the treatments.

"But I think there's a huge number of people who could benefit from this," he adds. "It's really the most exciting thing that's happened in our specialty in probably 15 years."

Sinusitis is an inflammation or infection of the straw-sized passages that drain each of the sinuses that surround the nose and eyes. It can cause swelling and facial pain, debilitating headaches, and a sometimes pus-like nasal congestion.

Acute sinusitis, triggered by colds or bad allergies, usually clears up within a month. But more than 30 million Americans suffer from chronic sinusitis, meaning symptoms last longer than two months or regularly recur. Patients repeatedly try antibiotics, decongestants or steroid-containing nasal sprays, but about a quarter are thought to get inadequate relief.

It's a vicious cycle: Each infection further narrows the already small drainage openings. Then the next cold or allergy attack that causes nasal congestion can be enough to block proper sinus drainage and spur yet another infection.

In severe cases, doctors snake special tools up the nose to enlarge those sinus openings by cutting out inflamed tissue and bone. It's highly effective only about 20 percent of patients need repeat surgery but is painful and can cause a week of swelling plus scar tissue that may reblock the sinus.

The new balloon device is snaked to the same spot, but there's no cutting. Instead, inflating the balloon aims to stretch that sinus opening back to its original size or a little bigger, letting air into the sinus to help antibiotics finally flush out infection and end the sinusitis cycle, explains Friedman, reports AP.

O.Ch.