Feel Like Your Nose Needs a Superhero?

For about three months, Karen Raahauge was having difficulty breathing through her nose, especially on the left side. "It kept getting progressively worse until I finally couldn't breathe at all out of my left nostril, " she said. "One of the people I work with recommended the St. Joseph Hospital Nasal & Sinus Center, so I made an appointment." Luca Vassalli, M.D., one of the physicians on staff at the Nasal & Sinus Center, suspected that a polyp might be the cause of Karen's problem.

As it turned out, he was right. "Nasal polyps are a common problem we see here, " he said. "Often we suspect them if someone has a problem breathing. Frequently, they have tried over-the-counter products or other treatments, but since polyps don't respond to decongestants, these medications aren't helpful."

In order to determine the extent of Karen's problem, Dr. Vassalli used the Nasal and Sinus Center's advanced nasal imaging system to determine whether or not a polyp was the source of the problem. He also ordered a CT scan to better determine the extent of Karen's problem. "He was so wonderful," said Karen. "Very reassuring and he explained everything to me." While there was one large polyp blocking Karen's left nostril, Dr. Vassalli also discovered there were several smaller polyps forming on the right side. Eventually, as they grew, they could cause problems as well. "Many people that are chronically congested have nasal polyps," said Dr. Vassalli. "Some develop sinus headaches, facial pain, and other allergy symptoms, but the most common problem is difficulty in breathing through the nose.

Using a fiber optic telescope, and the Center's advanced computer imaging (the Center's specialty), physicians can visualize the entire nasal cavity. In addition to polyps, they are looking for such problems as a deviated septum, allergic rhinitis and sinusitis. All interfere with normal breathing. Once Karen's problem was diagnosed, she was scheduled for outpatient surgery. The surgery takes about two hours and is done through the nose so there are no external incisions.

In addition to removing the large polyp on her left side, Dr. Vassalli also removed the smaller polyps forming on the right. "What amazed me was that there was absolutely no pain," Karen recalled. "My nose felt swollen and it was bandaged, but it certainly didn't hurt." According to Karen, after Dr. Vassalli removed the packing in her nose, "Suddenly I could breathe again! It was such a wonderful feeling." "Most patients will experience only minimal pain, if at all," said Dr. Vassalli. "There may be a little soreness and a little swelling, but they are usually very pleased with the results. They often notice the difference immediately."

In retrospect, Karen wishes she had sought help earlier. "Not only was it difficult to breathe, but it interrupted my sleep," she said. "I went around for weeks feeling tired and sluggish. I had heard stories about how painful surgery could be. That certainly wasn't my experience. I am very pleased with the way I was treated and the results of the surgery. I would recommend it to anyone."

* Nasal polyps are non-cancerous growths occurring in the nose or sinus. There is no known cause for nasal and sinus polyps. Nasal polyps often cause a blocked nose, decrease in taste and smell, a thick nasal drainage and sinusitis.

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