Balloon dilation, also known as balloon sinuplasty, is a surgery to widen blocked sinus passages without cutting or tissue removal. First made available in the United States in 2005, balloon sinuplasty can be an effective tool for restoring drainage to some of the sinuses.
To explain how it works, we’ll use an analogy:
Think of the sinus as a pipe that’s too narrow in one section to allow enough water to pass through. If a plumber guided a sturdy balloon down the pipe to that section and then blew it up with enough force, it would expand that part of the pipe outward, allowing water to flow much more freely.
Balloon dilation does something like that for your sinus openings. The sinuses are air-filled cavities located within the bones around the nose and eyes that allow for natural airflow and drainage. Sometimes, though, the passages leading to those cavities are too narrow for enough air to pass through or sufficient drainage from the sinuses to occur. This isn’t optimal, and it can happen for many reasons, including inflammation (sinusitis) or just the way an individual’s anatomy has developed.
How it works
In balloon dilation, a small deflated balloon device mounted on a thin tube is guided into a sinus opening that is too narrow. The narrowness causes restricted airflow and drainage from the sinuses, and this is what the surgery is meant to correct. Once the balloon is in the right spot, it is inflated. It presses against the walls of the sinus opening, which expands to accommodate the balloon. Afterward, and after the healing is complete, the sinus drainage pathways should be restored.
However, rather than expanding over time, balloon dilation widens the sinus opening very quickly, and in addition to expanding soft tissue, the balloon will shift the bones along the sides of the nasal passage. Some patients report that they hear cracking sounds during the procedure. This is normal. The thin bones around the sinuses fracture to reshape the sinus; this is necessary so that the passages can be widened. Once it heals, and if the procedure is successful, the sinus outflow passageway will be expanded.
Balloon sinus dilation can be a safe and effective treatment. However, it does not treat the underlying inflammation or polyps, so the condition may return.
According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery, balloon sinus dilation is a therapeutic option for select patients with chronic rhinosinusitis (CRS) and recurrent acute rhinosinusitis (RARS) who have failed appropriate medical therapy. Ultimately, to determine whether you are an appropriate candidate for balloon sinus dilation and/or other treatment options, an ENT (ear, nose, throat) physician must perform a medical examination and evaluation.