Page last updated at 09:16 GMT, Wednesday, 17 June 2009 10:16 UK

Balloon treats blocked sinuses

By Anna-Marie Lever
Health reporter, BBC News


Surgeon Claire Hopkins: "The light shining through the forehead shows we are in the right place"

Joanne Colyer has suffered from terrible headaches for the past six months.

"Sometimes it is so bad I can hardly move. My head is banging and I am physically sick," she said.

These are some of the symptoms of sinusitis, a common condition that affects 10% of people in the UK. It can also lead to facial pain, nasal blockage and a loss of taste and smell.

Sinusitis occurs when the sinuses, the air spaces behind the bones of the upper face, become obstructed causing a build up of mucus and chronic infection.

Joanne was offered pioneering surgery to relieve the pain caused by her blocked sinuses.

Inflating balloon

"In the past we have used instruments that cut and remove tissue to open up the sinuses, now was are using a balloon to stretch the opening, so there is less scarring in the recovery period and the results will last for longer," said Claire Hopkins, a rhinology Fellow at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust.

Joanne Colyer
The day after the surgery, my headaches weren't nearly as bad
Joanne Colyer

The technology uses a tiny balloon that is put up the nose via a flexible tube and then slowly inflated to release the blockage and widen the passage.

"The balloon inflates to three times the pressure of a car tyre, around 10-12 atmospheres," said Miss Hopkins.

"It is rock solid and gently stretches the tissues and compressing the bone around it leaving a 7mm opening in the sinuses."

The balloon is then deflated and removed, allowing normal drainage to be restored.

Relief from pressure

This technology is single use and costs around £800 per patient.

The procedure was approved by The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) at the end of last year and is now offered in 25 hospitals across the UK.

In some patients the relief from releasing the pressure in their sinuses can be felt straight away.

"A few hours after my surgery I had a few nosebleeds, but the pain was much less compared to what I was previously suffering.

"My headaches aren't nearly as bad as they were," says Joanne.

"I look forward to doing things with my children and not worrying about my headaches or being sick."

Guy's and St Thomas' is the first trust in Europe to offer the latest step in this technology.

Rather than removing the balloon on the same day, it is left in place for a month.

This semi permeable balloon contains microscopic holes and over three to four weeks it gradually deflates and delivers steroids to where they are needed.

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