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Major Problems Following Sinus Surgery

Major Problems Following Sinus Surgery

Sinus surgery to relieve nasal blockages sounds harmless but this sensitive operation can cause blindness and brain damage.

What are the sinuses?

The sinuses are cavities in the facial bones behind the nose, in the forehead and behind the cheekbones. Most people aren't aware of them until they cause a problem.

They connect with the nose through small openings and play an important part in the successful functioning of the respiratory system by producing mucus which drains into the nose.

When is sinus surgery necessary?


Sometimes the lining of the sinuses can become inflamed, usually following a respiratory infection, such as a throat infection. This can cause problems such as a blocked nose, headaches, a high temperature, a mucus discharge and loss of sense of smell. This is called sinusitis and is not uncommon.

Many people will not even need to see their GP as their sinusitis will clear up naturally and they may just need to take painkillers whilst that happens.

Other people may find that their symptoms persist and they need to see their GP who may prescribe antibiotics or steroids to try to resolve the problem.

However, if symptoms are severe or the sinusitis is on-going and problematic, the patient may be referred to an E.N.T. consultant who may suggest surgery. It is unlikely that surgery would be recommended unless other options had already been tried and proved unsuccessful.

The surgeon might require a CT scan or MRI to confirm the diagnosis of sinusitis and help to plan the operation.

Nasal or sinus polyps

Sinus surgery may also be required to remove polyps in the lining of the nose or sinuses. Polyps are small, non-cancerous swellings or growths which may not cause any symptoms at all unless they grow larger or block the sinuses.

They are usually treated with steroids but surgery may be required if they cause a problem.

What is Functional Endoscopic Sinus Surgery (FESS)?

Sinus surgery is carried out under local or general anaesthetic via the nostrils. It involves removing small amounts of bone and sinus lining to relieve the blockage and allow the sinuses to function properly.

This procedure is successful in approximately nine out of ten patients but occasionally it does not resolve the original problem or further complications occur.

Alternatively the surgeon might inflate a small balloon inside the sinuses to widen them and help the mucus to flow effectively.

What are the risks of sinus surgery?

One risk of sinus surgery is that it will not be successful and the patient may need to undergo further surgery to resolve the problem. This is especially likely where the aim of surgery has been to remove polyps, as there is almost always a recurrence of this condition.

Minor risks such as bruising, bleeding and crusting of the nostrils may also occur.

Occasionally, more serious risks can occur due to accidents during surgery.

Damage to the eye (Intraocular damage)

The eye sockets are very close to some of the sinuses and can easily be affected by sinus surgery. The eye sockets are separated from the sinus cavities by a thin layer of bone and this can be damaged by the surgery. This can lead to bleeding into the eye socket. In some instances, a blood clot can develop which can threaten the sight. Visual impairment and even blindness can occur.

Alternatively damage can be caused to the muscles controlling the movement of the eye leading to double vision.

Damage to the brain (Intracranial damage)

Damage to the brain can occur if there is a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leak, where the lining of the brain the meninges are accidentally cut during sinus surgery.

This would allow the CSF to leak out via the nose. One of the risks of this problem is the development of meningitis.

It is also possible for a perforation of the brain cavity to occur during sinus surgery, leading to permanent brain damage.

Consent and sinus surgery

Where sinus surgery is concerned, it is important that the patient is fully aware of the possible risks and complications which might occur. Although severe complications are extremely rare, there are vulnerable, complex and fundamental structures close to the site of surgery and damage could cause catastrophic outcomes.

A judgement as to the problems caused by the sinusitis or polys in comparison to the possible risks of surgery needs to be made.

However, in some circumstances, where on-going infection is likely, the risks of not undergoing surgery can also threaten the brain as infection spreads.

Medical Negligence

Where permanent damage to the eye or brain is caused during sinus surgery, the surgeon may be guilty of medical negligence. Where the patient had not been made fully aware of the potential risks, it may be argued that they would not have agreed to the surgery had they known the risks involved.

Speak to a solicitor

If you or a loved one have suffered from severe complications of sinus surgery, you may be able to make a claim for compensation. Contact us at Glynns Solicitors. We are a specialist team of medical negligence solicitors.

Call us free on 0800 234 3300 (or from a mobile 01275 334030) or complete our Online Enquiry Form.

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