Patients – and even some physicians – tend to assume that abnormalities on CT or MRI scans are fixed or permanent. The truth is that such scans are mere “snapshots in time.” They show the appearance of the sinuses at the very moment the scan was taken, which may or may not accurately represent the more typical condition of a patient’s sinuses.
For instance, if an individual with generally healthy sinuses has a CT scan done during a cold or an allergy attack, the scan will show clogged and swollen sinuses and will be described as “diseased” by the radiologist. Several weeks after recovery, a followup scan would likely appear normal. If the original scan alone is used as the basis for deciding on treatment options, however, chances are that an unnecessary surgery will likely be recommended. Proper timing of CT scan following aggressive therapy is crucial.
As recognized specialists in the diagnosis and treatment of sinus disorders, it is not surprising that many patients initially come to the New York Sinus Center for a second opinion on the radiology-driven surgery recommendations. Fortunately for most of these patients, we often conclude that their long-term sinus health is best served by a non-surgical approach. Having said that, however, we also have found that there are many instances where surgery was not recommended but clearly is the advisable solution for the patient in question. CT scans do not always reveal the true condition of individuals with recurrent infection and more severe sinus problems as their sinus complaints can be episodic in nature. It’s not uncommon for someone with unhealthy sinuses to have a CT scan taken at a time that will suggest otherwise.
While CT scans or MRIs can prove extremely useful as a diagnostic tool, they should never be used alone to determine sinus treatment, especially if the result is an interpretation advocating surgical intervention.