The series of cavities around your nasal passages are called the sinuses. Most people tend to think of the sinus system as the passages behind your nose, but there are also sinus cavities behind your forehead and eyes. Most people have a total of eight sinus cavities.

Sometimes, the sinus system faces problems such as a thickened lining, polyps (growths), or repeated infections. Some people are born with sinuses that aren’t shaped the typical way. All of these issues can cause respiratory difficulty. There are cases where the best treatment for sinus problems is sinus surgery.

Types of sinus surgery include:

  • functional endoscopic surgery
  • turbinate reduction surgery
  • balloon sinuplasty
  • sinus ostial dilation surgery

If sinus surgery has been recommended as an option for you, keep reading to find out what to expect.

The steps during a sinus surgery procedure are as follows:

  • You will be placed under either local or general anesthesia.
  • A small telescope will be inserted into your sinuses so that the surgeon can get a detailed look at what’s happening as they work.
  • The doctor will then surgically remove blockages, tiny sections of bone, or polyps from your sinuses.
  • If you’re under local anesthesia, you may feel some pressure or hear the doctor removing things from the sinus system. This is similar to the noise you might here while you are at the dentist having a cavity repaired.

Some sinus surgeries use a small balloon to enlarge the sinuses during the procedure. Depending on the shape of your sinuses, your doctor may also suggest repairing the direction of your septum during the surgery. This can help you breathe more easily after you heal.

You should typically avoid over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen and aspirin for a week before your sinus surgery. In certain cases, such as after a cardiac stent, people shouldn’t be off their medications for too long. To be safe, ask the surgeon how long they want you off of your medications.

Begin to irrigate the sinus passages with a saline spray, as well. You should also arrange for a ride to and from your procedure. You will not be able to drive home.

Like any surgical procedure, sinus surgery does have risks.

The serious complications of sinus surgery are rare. You may experience severe bleeding after the surgery. If you bleed too much, you may need a blood transfusion. Some people have vision problems or a decreased sense of smell. Any surgery of the ethmoid sinus carries a risk of creating a leak in the fluid that surrounds your brain. This would require further surgery to fix.

If you experience a severe headache that won’t go away, redness or swelling around your eyes, or a high fever (greater than 100.4°F) after your surgery, you need to get in touch with your doctor. Most likely, they will want to see you just to make sure there isn’t an infection developing.

You can decrease your risk of complications after surgery by following your doctor’s instructions. You should also be careful of your activity levels in the three weeks afterward.

You won’t need to stay overnight in the hospital after sinus surgery. That said, you should plan to have someone to drive you home from the procedure. You won’t be able to drive yourself.

After a sinus surgery, follow-up care is essential to make sure your sinuses heal correctly. It could take up to five days for you to feel up for your regular physical activity. You should avoid activities that elevate your blood pressure, such as weight lifting and running, until you get clearance from your doctor.

Medications

During the recovery process, you take special pain relief medication prescribed by your doctor. You may also be prescribed corticosteroids. Over-the-counter medication, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, could interfere with your blood pressure. These are not usually recommended.

You will need to keep your sinus passages moistened with a saline spray immediately after the surgery. The spray will keep blood crusts from forming and blocking the sinuses as they heal.

Common side effects and best practices for recovery

You’ll most likely have some nasal dripping or mucus that is bloody — this is normal. But you will need to avoid blowing your nose for 4 to 7 days after surgery. Blowing could disrupt the delicate sinuses as they heal.

Your doctor might insert nasal packs at the site of the surgery and remove them in the days afterwards. Your doctor will ask you to schedule a few postoperative appointments. They can clear your nasal passages safely and carefully.

Some insurance plans may cover sinus surgery, while others don’t. Sinus surgery is different than a cosmetic rhinoplasty (nose job). But correction of a deviated septum may still be an elective surgery under your insurance provider’s guidelines. Most insurance plans do cover surgery that is deemed essential by your doctor. Still, you may have to do some detective work to figure out if you’re going to be covered.

If you decide to have a sinus surgery that is not covered by insurance, costs may vary greatly depending on your provider and the hospital you choose. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor what you should expect to pay for the surgery. Some offices will offer payment plans or a discount for paying for a procedure in cash.

If you are considering sinus surgery, ask your doctor what your particular recovery experience would be like. Find out from your doctor whether there are certain risk factors in your health history that could make this surgery riskier for you. You may also want to ask what his or her personal success rate has been in the past with this kind of surgery.

For some people, surgery is an absolute last resort, so find out if there are other treatments that you could try before deciding on surgery.

The majority of people that have sinus surgery report their symptoms improve greatly afterward. They have easier breathing, fewer infections, and increased sense of smell. To many people who have repeated sinus infections and difficulty breathing, this surgery is well worth the minimal risks it carries.