The Complications of Sinus Surgery

man with painful sinuses

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Sinus surgeries are often complex. They rarely involve surgery on just one sinus or just one area of the nose. Instead, many structures are operated on during the surgery. Among the procedures that are included under the term "sinus surgery" are:

In some cases, these procedures are performed at the same time as an adenoidectomy, tonsillectomy, UPPP, or the insertion of ear tubes.

Potential and Expected Complications

Sinus surgery is becoming increasingly more common as new and improved methods make this surgery safer with a shorter recovery time. The benefits of this surgery can truly change a person's life, but all surgeries have risks.

Always discuss the potential risks versus the benefits of sinus surgery with your doctor before you make a decision.

After sinus surgery, it is normal and expected to have pain (usually a headache or a slight burning sensation), bleeding from the nose continually for about 24 hours afterward, feeling congested and swollen for a few days, and to have bad breath.

There are other complications that are less common and only occur in a relatively small number of cases, but they can be serious. They include (but are not limited to):

  • Hemorrhaging: Bleeding is normal, but in rare cases, there is a point where the bleeding can become excessive or prolonged and pose a serious threat to your health.
  • Infections: Most of the time, post-surgical infections are not serious and can be cleared up with antibiotics, but in rare cases, the infection can enter the bloodstream and become life-threatening. It is also possible to become infected with an antibiotic-resistant germ, such as MRSA, which could be timely and costly to cure.
  • Changes in your sense of smell and/or taste.
  • Damage to surrounding tissue: Because of the location of the sinuses, there is a possibility that surrounding tissues could be damaged. These tissues include the brain and the eyes. This is very rare. Black eyes or bruising around the eyes after sinus surgery is not normal and should be reported to your surgeon immediately. 
  • Numbness: You may experience numbness in your face, lips, and nose. This is usually temporary, but rarely, if there is actual nerve damage, this could become permanent.
  • Cerebrospinal fluid rhinorrhea. This is a rare complication in which brain and spinal fluid leaks from the brain and runs out the nose. Cerebrospinal fluid rhinorrhea is usually cured with surgery.

It is also worth noting that some of the structures removed or altered during sinus surgery can regrow or move back to their original position, necessitating more sinus surgery. There is no way of determining if this will be the case ahead of time.

Also be aware that general anesthesia comes with its own set of potential risks and serious complications, too, including malignant hyperthermia and even death. You may be at a higher risk if you've had an immediate family member who had a serious reaction to general anesthesia or if you have muscular dystrophy.

The Good News About Sinus Surgery

Don't let these potential risks and complications get you worked up and worried. Serious complications from sinus surgery are quite rare. Sinus surgery is no riskier than the hundreds of other surgeries people have every day.

In my many years of working in a surgical center that performs dozens of sinus surgeries each day, I've only ever seen two cases where any serious complications occurred. Both were excessive bleeding and both patients were later found to have undiagnosed underlying bleeding disorders similar to hemophilia. Both patients were properly treated and discharged one to two days later.

I am so confident in the safety of this surgery, and in the skill of our surgeon, that my spouse and two children have had it. All three of them have experienced a vast improvement in their overall health post-surgery, including the complete curing or improvement of sleep apnea, less congestion, and fewer headaches. Results from sinus surgery, however, are not always predictable since sinus disease may involve a complex interplay between the immune system, allergy status, environment, and other factors.

Your overall health plays a major role in determining how safe this surgery is for you, which is why having sinus surgery is a personal decision that should be made between you and your physician.

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Article Sources
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Additional Reading
  • American Rhinologic Society. Complications of Sinus Surgery.