Balloon sinuplasty, also known as balloon catheter dilation surgery, is a procedure to clear blocked sinuses. This surgery is relatively new, having been approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2005. It’s also commonly referred to as the “smart sinus” procedure.

Balloon sinuplasty is most often recommended for people with chronic sinusitis, after other treatments for their condition have been ineffective. Balloon sinuplasty is fairly straightforward, and reported complications are minimal. There’s no cutting and no removal of bones or tissue. But balloon sinuplasty is still a type of sinus surgery, and it carries the same kinds of risks that other types of sinus surgery do.

Balloon sinuplasty is performed in a hospital or in the office of an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist. A balloon sinuplasty can be performed under local or general anesthesia. You’ll talk to your doctor about the anesthesia plan before the surgery so that you know what to expect.

During the procedure, your doctor will insert a tiny flashlight at the end of a wire into your sinus cavity so that they can see what they’re doing. Next, they’ll insert a very slim and flexible balloon catheter into your sinus passage. The balloon is then slowly inflated to expand the sinus opening.

Your doctor will flush out built-up pus and mucus in the sinus cavity with a saline solution. You’ll feel a decrease in pressure when this happens. While the balloon is in the sinus passage, it gently restructures the bones around your sinuses. Once this process is complete, your doctor will remove the balloon. This leaves the sinus passage widened and the sinus free of built-up pressure.

The cost of a balloon sinuplasty can range from $3,000 to $7,000, depending on the doctor doing the surgery. The surgery tends to cost much less in an office or clinic setting than in an operating room. Because the procedure is relatively new, some insurance providers still classify this surgery as experimental or “not medically necessary.” The American Academy of Otolaryngology issued a statement in 2014 that called for all insurance providers to consider covering the cost of this procedure.

After a balloon sinuplasty, many people are able to return to their regular activities within a day or two. Some people even drive themselves home from the procedure.

In the week following the surgery, you might see some bloody drainage or discharge coming from your nose. This is normal after any sinus surgery and isn’t a reason to worry. You might also experience swelling and some fatigue and congestion. All of this is to be expected after any sinus surgery. You should be healed and free of these symptoms within five to seven days.

After a balloon sinuplasty, your doctor will instruct you not to blow your nose at all for at least 24 hours. You’ll also need to avoid strenuous activity that will elevate your heart rate for the first week. To relieve discomfort from drainage, sleep with your head elevated. Plan to take it easy for the first week after the procedure. You’ll want to be very careful and aware of how you feel.

The fastest path to recovery is to follow the instructions from your doctor. You’ll be prescribed an antibiotic to discourage an infection. Make sure you take any drugs that are prescribed to you for the entire duration of the prescription. You may also be prescribed a pain reliever, although the balloon sinuplasty rarely causes excessive pain. Speak to your doctor before you take any over-the-counter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen or aspirin. Finally, you’ll also be prescribed a saline solution to rinse your nasal passages for three to seven days after the procedure. This will keep your sinuses lubricated and promote healing.

All forms of sinus surgery carry similar risks, and balloon sinuplasty is no exception. The greatest potential complication is intracranial complications. In these cases, the connection between the nose and the brain is affected during the surgery and brain fluid can leak into your nose. This complication doesn’t happen often and is usually fixed before the surgery is even over.

There’s also a chance that the appearance of your nose could change slightly after the surgery. Sometimes the swelling doesn’t subside for several days, or the nose looks different once the swelling goes away.

If you aren’t able to cleanse the area correctly, an infection might develop that requires medical attention. And although most sinus surgery improves your sense of smell, there are times that the surgery actually makes it worse.

Balloon sinuplasty is a promising treatment for people with chronic sinus problems. Though the surgery is relatively new, it should be considered a valid and safe option for people who have tried other treatments. A follow-up study showed that people with balloon sinuplasty have results that last at least two years.