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Published May 05, 2013, 11:40 PM

Chronic sinusitis can lead to unbearable pain, but there is help

FARGO - Derek Peterson of Fargo has suffered from chronic sinus infections his whole life, he said. “In grade school, I’d be holding my head in my hands just miserable,” he said.

By: Tracy Frank, INFORUM

FARGO - Derek Peterson of Fargo has suffered from chronic sinus infections his whole life, he said.

“In grade school, I’d be holding my head in my hands just miserable,” he said.

He tried antibiotics and neti pots, but nothing helped. Headaches were so common that Peterson took ibuprofen like vitamins, he said.

Then last spring he started getting what’s called cluster headaches, one of the most painful types of headaches, according to Mayo Clinic. Peterson said the pain is so unbearable, they’re sometimes called suicide headaches.

He saw a neurologist who thought he may have a blood clot. Then, he was referred to Dr. William Porter of William C. Porter Ear, Nose & Throat in Fargo. Porter said all of Peterson’s sinuses were completely infected, were not draining and had been that way for a long time, Peterson said.

On top of that, his septum deviated too far to the right.

“I essentially hadn’t been getting oxygen flow through my right nostril pretty much my whole life,” Peterson said.

Sinusitis is an inflammatory condition of the paranasal sinuses that causes symptoms including nasal congestion, facial pain or pressure and nasal discharge accompanied by pus, according to Porter.

Sinustitis is one of the most common chronic health problems in the U.S., affecting 37 million Americans each year, according to Dr. Lesley Soine of Plains Ear, Nose, Throat & Facial Plastic Surgery in Fargo.

Patients can also suffer from headaches, a loss of the sense of smell and malaise, she said.

Peterson hadn’t realized how much his sinus issues affected his sense of smell, he said. He worked on a commercial fishing boat for a year, and while people around him would be gagging, he was fine.

“Now I realize I just couldn’t smell,” he said.

Peterson also wasn’t able to focus. Although he’d been a 4.0 student in high school, in college he received average to below-average grades. In high school he was athletic and described himself as a social butterfly.

But in recent years he isolated himself from activities and other people. He was tired all the time and it hurt to even talk, he said.

He also suffered from Horner syndrome, a rare disorder that occurs when certain nerves that travel from the brain to the eyes and face are damaged, according to Mayo Clinic. It causes the upper eyelid to droop and the lower lid to be slightly elevated. It also causes a decrease in pupil size in the affected eye.

All of that changed after Porter performed sinus surgery on Peterson last May.

“It’s completely changed my life, my attitude, my performance in anything I do, my overall wellbeing,” he said.

His Horner syndrome also went away, he said.

Chris Nilson of Fargo used to get a sinus infection every month. And whenever he got a cold, it seemed it would just continue to get worse rather than go away, he said.

He was tired and stuffy all the time and suffered through bad sinus headaches. He would miss days of work and be tired all weekend.

But then he underwent Balloon Sinuplasty with Soine two months ago and hasn’t had a sinus infection since, he said.

“I feel great,” he said. “I had a cold and it went away in two days.”

Soine has started offering in-office Balloon Sinuplasty, which uses a small catheter and balloon to quickly open and expand blocked sinuses, restoring normal sinus drainage and function.

“It’s designed to be a very minimally invasive procedure,” Soine said. “Balloon Sinuplasty is designed to take a sinus that is not properly draining and it basically opens the natural drainage passages of the sinus without removing tissue.”

Patients who go through the in-office procedure don’t use a full anesthetic as they would in a hospital-based procedure, Soine said.

“It cuts down on recovery time,” she said.

Balloon Sinuplasty is a newer technology that’s been used over the past five to seven years, Porter said.

For chronic sinusitis that doesn’t respond to non-surgical treatments, surgeons might also do an endoscopic surgery to make the sinus openings bigger to drain them and allow better airflow, he said.

But surgical procedures aren’t always needed.

Acute infections that last less than six weeks may clear up on their own or with antibiotics or over-the-counter treatments, Porter and Soine said.

And sinus problems aren’t always a sign of sinusitis, they said.

“Quite a lot of times people who think they have a chronic sinus infection don’t,” Porter said.

A common problem is that the ridges in the lining of the nose swell up tremendously, plugging the nose and causing pain and pressure in their sinuses, he said.

“That’s what gets really swollen when you have a cold or allergies to the extent that it can block the flow of air,” he said.

A deviated septum or a combination of deviated septum and swollen ridges in the nose’s lining can mimic a sinus infection, he said.

“They may have even been treated with a lot of different antibiotics presuming it’s a sinus infection but nobody’s ever gotten an X-ray or a CAT scan,” he said.

Swollen ridges in the nose’s lining can be treated with a steroid nasal spray. Sometimes surgery is needed, Porter said.

If a person doesn’t get sinus infections often, Porter recommends going to a primary care doctor or walk-in clinic, but if it doesn’t clear up, an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, throat specialist) can help.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526