When you have a blocked nose or a sneezy reaction to dust and certain scents, you would most likely say: “I have sinus”.
But the phrase doesn’t really mean much, medically, says Associate Professor Dharambir S Sethi, an Ear, Nose, Throat (ENT) surgeon at Novena ENT– Head & Neck Surgery Specialist Centre.
This is because the term “sinus” actually refers to one of four pairs of air cavities. Found in different areas, from the forehead bone to the back of the nose, these sinuses are prone to infection, benign growths and tumours.
In his more than 30 years on the job, A/P Sethi says that he has “seen and treated almost every condition found in a standard ENT textbook”. These range from nasal allergies, and acute and chronic sinusitis to rarer tumours.
He became interested in the management of nose and sinus diseases after meeting pioneering doctors in this field at a seminar in Hong Kong in 1991. Since then, A/P Sethi has become internationally recognised for his work in endoscopic sinus and skull base surgeries.
Your nose is your body’s thermostat and filter
Calling the nose “an incredible organ”, A/P Sethi says that it functions as a thermostat that regulates the temperature of the air you inhale.
“Let’s imagine that you are in a region where the outside temperature is minus 10 deg C. By the time this air reaches the back of your nose, it has been warmed to 37 deg C – that’s a lot of work in a really short time!”
The nose also acts as a filter, trapping pollutants with a gel-like layer that lines the nasal cavity and then cleaning out these trapped particles.
Says A/P Sethi: “Of the five senses – sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch – three are in the ENT domain. The ear, nose and throat are closely linked. Any disease rising in one area may affect the other regions as well. A patient with a blocked ear may have anything from a sinus infection to nose cancer.”
He’s also fascinated with how the roof of the nose is separated from the brain by a thin bone called the skull base where brain tumours can form. In the past, these tumours could only be removed through large incisions done on the scalp. But thanks to the advent of endoscopic sinus surgery, a minimally invasive procedure can now be done through the nose.
In 1994, working with a neurosurgeon, A/P Sethi was one of the first in the world to remove a pituitary tumour through the nose. “Today, the technique has become popular all over the world. It has also opened the doors for other endoscopic techniques that go way beyond the pituitary gland. What we started was the beginning of a new era in skull base surgery!”
Watch your nasal health
For all the work that it does, the nose is susceptible to many problems like nasal polyps, nose bleeds and nasal obstruction caused by a deviated nasal septum.
If you have a deviated septum, the middle of your nasal cavity, made up of bone and cartilage, buckles to the left or the right. Such an anatomical disorder can predispose you to sinus infections.
Besides sinusitis, A/P Sethi sees many cases of nose bleeds, common among those living and working in low-humidity environments, like air-conditioned ones. “Other causes of nasal bleeds include infections and tumours. Any nose bleeding should be taken seriously and needs an examination to determine the cause.”
For more information, visit www.mountelizabeth.com.sg or 6898-6898 (Novena) to make an appointment with the specialists.
This article provides general information only and is not a substitute for medical advice. Please consult medical or healthcare professionals for advice on health-related matters.