Caring Currents

Breathing Problems Can Be Cured by Simple Surgery

Last updated: Jan 17, 2010

What happens after a Cold
Image by ☯ AnA oMeLeTe ☯ used under the creative commons attribution share alike license.

Does someone in your life have trouble breathing as a result of chronic sinusitis?

You'd be surprised how common this is. Experts say between 16 and 18 percent of adults have chronic sinusitis -- now officially known as rhinosinusitis -- that makes them unable to breathe through their noses. The condition, which leads to repeated sinus infections, causes frequent coughing, sneezing, and headaches, and can lead to weakness and fatigue. Some head and neck experts say that chronic sinusitis can actually cause people to suffer more long-term problems than COPD.

Researchers at Oregon Health Sciences University have been shining a light on this little-discussed problem lately with a series of studies showing that simple surgery greatly increases the quality of life for those who undergo it.

The most recent study, published in this month's issue of Otolaryngology, found that 75 percent of those who had endoscopic sinus surgery reported that their quality of life afterward greatly improved.

Endoscopic sinus surgery is a relatively simple surgery in which a lighted scope and surgical instruments are inserted through the nose to remove blockages. There's no skin cutting involved, so it typically takes just 60 to 90 minutes and patients can usually go home the same day. Patients have the surgery with either local or general anesthesesia, depending on various circumstances.

Of course, no surgery is really simple, even an outpatient same-day procedure, especially if it involves general anesthesia.

For the very elderly or those with multiple health problems, such a procedure probably wouldn't be worthwhile. But family caregivers are talking about this procedure because for many older adults, difficulty breathing can contribute to a whole host of other problems.

Breathing problems can interfere with many of the activities -- like exercise -- that keep us healthy as we get older. And an older person whose nose is chronically stuffed up may resist going outside, leading to all sorts of issues.

I've heard from people whose parents suffering from chronic rhinusitis give up walking, gardening, and other activities that make them happy, or even lose touch with friends by staying home. And of course not going outside prevents them from getting sun exposure, which has the physical consequence of lowering vitamin D levels as well as the psychological consequences of increasing depression and isolation.

The American Academy of Otolaryngology has a useful fact sheet available that describes endoscopic sinus surgery procedures in more detail.

It seems that many people still don't know that this relatively recent procedure is available, and how much it can help. If you or a loved one has been limiting activity because of breathing and sinus issues, it's truly worth considering.