Sinus Surgery: What to Expect

Sinus surgery: what to expect

Never even knew what sinus problems were when I lived up North, but after moving to beautiful South Carolina, chronic sinus infections have plagued me for more than 20 years. (Yikes!!!)

Got tested for allergies about a year and a half ago and found out I was allergic to just about everything (including dogs, cats and cockroaches!) Started getting weekly allergy shots that helped to reduce everyday sinus-type headaches, but the infections got more and more frequent.

After suffering seven sinus infections last year, five the year before, and one looonnnggg infection from early December through early March this year — my doctors and I decided it was time to take further action. (“Please do something to make my face stop hurting! Anything!”)

So…I had sinus surgery.

Saw two different ear, nose and throat (ENT) docs and asked  lots of questions, did some Internet research and looked up the procedure online. Also asked around and found a couple people at work who’d had the surgery done — and talked with them.

Then had it done on an outpatient basis.

Both docs made a big point of saying that the surgery wasn’t going to prevent all future sinus infections — but that it would (hopefully) reduce the number of them by allowing the sinuses to drain better.

They told me the procedure’s come a long way, and that I wouldn’t have bruises,  black eyes, facial swelling or packing in my nose. That sounded good!

They did warn me, however, to expect a lot of facial pain right after the surgery and to feel like I had a sinus infection for 2-3 weeks afterwards.

On the big day, had to follow the nothing-to-eat-after-midnight procedure and got there nice and hungry for the afternoon surgery.

They put in an IV, then administered general anesthesia to do the two-hour procedure.

The doc did the entire surgery endoscopically by sticking instruments up my nose and watching a real-time x-ray-like image.

He straightened my deviated septum (twisted nose bone), widened and scraped the sinus openings and sewed one of  the turbinates (curved bone shelves inside your nose that stick out in the breathing passage to clean and humidify air) to the septum.

Came out of anesthesia about 45 minutes after the surgery ended and my face felt numb, but nothing hurt.

My nose was bleeding, though. The last incident I remember involving bloody noses was  seeing a classmate get one in the second grade…

Sinus drip tadThe nurses had me wear a goofy-looking device called a nasal drip tad. It’s a plastic band that goes across your face under your nose and hooks around both ears with elastic loops. You put a rolled up piece of gauze under the section right under your nose, and the device holds the gauze in place and serves as a “drip pan” for blood. (It looks like you have a big white mustache.)

Although it worked great, the nose bleeding was icky and wearing the face thing was  very embarrassing!

The medical staff gave my friend J and me a lot of instructions and a bag of pills (prednisone to reduce internal swelling, antibiotics, anti-nausea med in case the anesthesia caused upset, pain pills). They said to expect nasal stuffiness for several weeks, too.

Prescriptions after sinus surgery

Nurse J took me to her house to recover. She knows all about my addiction to fountain drinks and chocolate, so we stopped at the Wendy’s drive-through on the way and got a chocolate frosty and a Diet Coke — a great post-surgery treat!

We hung out, then she and her husband grilled hamburgers on the grill. I ate with gusto, then we hung out some more.

Took  two hydrocodone pain pills (six hours apart) after the surgery, but can’t believe that I wasn’t even sleepy and had no pain. All I felt was my face and teeth gradually un-numbing from the anesthesia.

I slept that night sitting up in her recliner chair since my nose was still bleeding and I didn’t want to mess up her sheets and/or choke! That wasn’t the best night’s sleep ever… but it worked fine.

(It’s a good idea to avoid leaning forward for things — to avoid nosebleeds — and  try to lift straight up and down using your leg muscles instead.)

The next day, I felt a little stuffy but still had no pain! Went home and took pain pills the rest of the day since I wasn’t driving anywhere, but was absolutely fine. Wore the “drip tad” half the day, then finally whipped it off and resorted to holding a paper towel under my nose, although the bleeding had mostly stopped.

The third day, my cheeks hurt some for half a day, but nothing near as bad as they do during a sinus infection.  They also hurt some on subsequent days, but not enough to justify taking pain pills.

I went for a long walk in the neighborhood the third day after surgery and considered myself pretty much “back to normal” by the fourth day.

(My cheeks hurt for a few days after that, though.)

After the surgery, in addition to taking prescribed pills, the only other thing you need to do — medicine-wise — is spray prescription medicine (mixed with distilled water in a Neil Rinse bottle) up your nose twice a day and use saline rinse three-to-five times daily.

In addition, you need to avoid lifting heavy things and refrain from doing vigorous exercise for two weeks. (My doc said I should walk instead of doing the usual Body Pump and Zumba.)

Maybe I was really lucky, but the surgery wasn’t bad at all! If it reduces the number of  sinus infections, it’ll be well worth it.

Related blog posts:

Carpal Tunnel Surgery


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29 Responses to Sinus Surgery: What to Expect

  1. Denise McCarney says:

    Hi Diane,
    First, so glad your feeling better!! Doesn’t sound like the most pleasant surgery but sounds like you faired just fine. Now you can enjoy the spring/summer in comfort, oh how I miss SC.

    • blogqueendiane says:

      Hi Denise – thanks for writing! Have been back at work this week and am still feeling great. Hope it’s not still snowing there!

  2. Adria R. says:

    I was so worried reading this as I was expecting a turn of events. So pleased that the end result was a positive one. I will be having a septoplasty and turbinate reduction on May 21st of this year and, I’ll be honest, I’m a bit nervous. I’ve suffered sinus infections almost all my life (I’m 36 now and have lived in Phoenix for two years. Prior to that, I was in Denver for 30 years and Lincoln, NE for four). I had an excellent first summer here in AZ and felt like my sinuses were good to go. The second spring/summer quickly made me realize that is not the case. I just can’t do it anymore. The headaches are incredibly bad and I’ve got to get back to good. So glad to hear that your experience was a great one. Happy Healing!

    • blogqueendiane says:


      Thanks so much for commenting. And I thought western weather was supposed to be better for sinuses! Hope you have an experience as good as mine when you have your procedure in May. I honestly expected WAY worse — and had heard a horror story from a friend at work — and was pleasantly surprised. You’re right — the headaches are killers, so if surgery helps them, it’s good.

  3. TheDoughGirl says:

    I had the same surgery with an easy recovery as well (even w/ 6 and 3 yr old boys and a new baby that I continued to breast feed–yes some pumping and dumping b/c of the meds, point being that if I could do it, you can too!). I suffer from migraines and this surgery was a life changer. I still get monthly migraines but I have no throbbing and am not throwing up or nearly bed ridden for 3days a month. If you suffer from migraines, this is something to look into.

    • blogqueendiane says:

      That’s interesting it helps for migraines, too. Glad we both had such uneventful recoveries (although you must’ve been superwoman for yours!)

  4. Kim Smith says:

    Sounds like you got through the surgery ok. Glad it turned out so well. Hope you are well on your way to great health soon. You should be able to enjoy this season very well.
    Kim Smith recently posted…Bewitching Stunning WisteriaMy Profile

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  6. Johnny says:

    It is good to know that after the first four days you felt pretty much back to normal. Right now I am dealing with a sore throat and sinus infection. I would hope that I don’t need surgery. If I do, I will definitely remember this post. Thank you for sharing.

  7. It’s interesting that they were able to do something for your sinus infections. I tend to get them pretty frequently too, but I’ve never talked to a doctor about it. I didn’t know what the causes were, so it’s helpful to know that doctors can determine that and perform surgery to fix it. Thanks for sharing your surgery experience!

  8. Lisa Harbilas says:

    I recently also had sinus surgery after having had a chronic sinus infection for 7 months straights and many rounds of antibiotics. The ENT doctor said time for surgery. Went in much like you no eating rule and all. They completed the surgery and sent me home after the whole three hour battle to wake me up (anesthesia kinda whoops my but and I have a hard time waking up). It took only till the next morning and I was no longer bleeding but because they had placed a stent in my sinuses to help keep it open and help it drain out after the severe infection the cleaned out of them, I needed the pain meds for three days. At the end of the three days I stopped taking them because I was so groggy. I had headaches until two week post-op checkup but now I have none. I did have to be placed on a second antibiotic due to a new sinus infection at my second post-op check. Other than that I will finish up my round of antibiotics in a couple of days. All headaches are gone and I feel great. Wish I would have done the surgery sooner.

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  10. Meg Lund says:

    Wow, I’m surprised that you were pretty much “back to normal” by the fourth day of recovery. I would have thought that a procedure like this was something that would take more of a recovery time. Since, I am getting sinus surgery myself, I want to be as prepared as possible. Thus, is this amount of time for recovery typical or does it usually take longer than four days? Thank you for sharing your story!

    • blogqueendiane says:

      Thanks for writing! I know two or three other people who had the same surgery and we all had different experiences. I suspect I was lucky in having no pain at all during recovery! My girlfriend had pretty severe sinus-like pain the 4th and 5th day after surgery, but felt OK up til then. She took a week off work. A guy I work with had some trouble for several weeks afterwards. Guess there really is no typical recovery… Good luck on your surgery!

  11. Elden Gatley says:

    I’m glad you weren’t feeling pain after the surgery. It’s nice to know kind of what to expect if I ever know anyone needing this surgery. I think that there are definitely some antibiotics that are better to take post-surgery than others.

  12. Hazel Owens says:

    I’m glad that your surgery went well! It’s great that you didn’t have too much pain afterwards. I have a friend who’s considering getting sinus surgery to fix their constant infections, and this article should be a comfort to her. Thanks for sharing, and I hope you haven’t had as many sinus infections since the surgery!

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  14. Amanda says:

    Quite glad to know you feel much better now….there are lots of people out there who might be very sceptical about sinus sugery in fixing their infections…This article is just in the right form to help them get over that.
    Amanda recently posted…Non surgical rhinoplasty, get a new nose in 15 minutesMy Profile

  15. Christina says:

    It’s nice that you were well prepared by the doctor’s who told you to expect pain for weeks. It’s also nice that you were happy with the outcome.

  16. Hey,
    So, Glad to hear that you are now back to work. This sounds that surgery works well for you. But I think this must be give you some irritation during surgery days. Have a happy day.
    Karen Zaghiyan recently posted…Treatments for Colorectal Cancer suffers in Los AngelesMy Profile

  17. Heather says:

    Wow, sounds like you really started healing fast! And it’s great that you were able to eat so soon after the surgery. Thanks for sharing your experience!

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  21. Thank you for sharing your experience, glad you are doing fine now.

  22. Swooz Brazzell says:

    Hi, I know it’s been 5 years since your surgery. I wonder how you’re doing now.
    Are you still pretty clear from the infections?
    Also, I wish you’d written a little about your follow up appointment, in regards to removing the packing? That’s one of my big fears about my upcoming sinus surgery.
    Thanks for sharing your experience.

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