ROYAL OAK, Mich. – About 31 million Americans suffer from chronic sinus problems, affecting their ability to breathe, sleep, smell and taste.
Most people are familiar with the stents doctors use to treat heart patients suffering from clogged arteries. Now that same concept is being applied to clogged sinuses. It's idea that's helping some patients breathe easy for the first time in decades.
Mike Whitty, 64, of Warren, Mich., said his sinus problems started in college. Through the years, it only got worse.
"I was a professional tennis player up until I was 30, and so throughout that whole time, it was never breathing through the nose. It was always breathing through the mouth," said Whitty.
His chronic sinus problems made sleeping difficult and frequent flying for business downright painful.
"I would have to sit in my seat and just hold my face or have a hot compress on it," said Whitty.
Finally, he had had enough.
"Within the last two years, it got to the point where it was 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I just couldn't breath."
Whitty turned to Beaumont ear, nose, and throat specialist Dr. Daniel Rontal, who offered him something beyond traditional sinus surgery. It's a stent device called the PROPEL implant.
"We do our normal sinus surgery, open up the sinuses widely, let the air in, remove the polyps, remove the infection. And afterwards, we place this device into the sinuses," said Rontal.
The implant props the area open and slowly releases a steroid called mometasone to reduce scarring and inflammation. After five or six weeks, the whole device dissolves away.
"Patients typically don't even know that it's there. They don't feel anything in there," said Rontal.
Rontal and his father were the first physicians in Michigan to offer the implant.
"We're treating the disease right at the source as opposed to swallowing the pills or having an IV that gets dissolved throughout the whole body. Here we're treating right at the spot of the disease," said Rontal. "The studies that have been done on this device show that it reduces the need for further surgery up to 30 percent."
The device is an option for patients suffering from chronic sinusitis. That's more than three months of symptoms including facial pain or pressure, nasal congestion or discharge, loss of smell or taste, headaches, fatigue and depression.
Rontal said the stent device itself really doesn't add any risks, but sinus surgery does have potential complications that patients should discuss with their doctor.
Whitty had the surgery in January.
"Once I had it, it was like night and day," said Whitty.
He's breathing properly and suddenly smelling things he didn't realize he was missing, good and bad.
"A lot of stuff comes across as a lot more pungent. Taking the trash out and throwing it away, you can smell the trash a whole lot more now," said Whitty.
Rontal said Michigan is the fifth state where the PROPEL implant is available, and it is covered by most insurance plans.
For patients like Whitty, it's a real breakthrough.
"I wish I would have had it done a long long time ago. I wish they would have had it a long time ago," said Whitty. "It's just nice not to have to worry about breathing anymore."
To learn more about the PROPEL implant, click here.
To visit Dr. Rontal's website, click here.