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Non-invasive test could be a marker for healthier sinuses

Toronto, December 8, 2017

By Greg Winson

Dr. John Lee explains the Sniffin’ Sticks test to patient Jeremy Phillips in the Sinus and Nasal Physiology Lab.
Dr. John Lee explains the Sniffin’ Sticks test to patient Jeremy Phillips in the Sinus and Nasal Physiology Lab. (Photo by Katie Cooper)

Chronic sinusitis is an inflammatory disease that affects five per cent of Canadians. Patients can feel like they have a cold for months on end.

One of the challenges for physicians treating sinusitis is selecting the best treatment. Some patients respond well to nasal sprays or antibiotics, while others require surgery for relief. Nitric oxide may provide the answer.

“Nitric oxide is a gas normally produced by our sinuses,” explained Dr. John Lee, an otolaryngologist-head and neck surgeon and director of the Sinus and Nasal Physiology Lab at St. Michael’s Hospital. “It’s there to help fight bacteria and viruses in our sinuses.”

A study by Dr. Lee, with colleagues in the Division of Respirology, show that nasal nitric oxide levels may be a biomarker for sinusitis. Healthy sinuses have higher nitric oxide levels than patients with evidence of inflammation or infection. The non-invasive test that measures nitric oxide takes just 20 minutes to perform.

Research performed at the Sinus and Nasal Physiology Lab, the only lab of its kind in the Greater Toronto Area, informs patient care and treatment.

“The more we are able to objectively know what’s going on in the sinuses, the better we can tailor the appropriate treatment,” said Dr. Lee.

Did you know?
Nitric oxide was named Molecule of the Year in 1992 by the journal Science.

St. Michael’s was one of the first hospitals to have a nasal airflow laboratory. In the 1980s, otolaryngologist Dr. Philip Cole designed the first airflow measurement that in its time was a standard for measuring airflow and resistance through the nose.

When Dr. Lee arrived at St. Michael’s in 2009, he set about reviving the lab using newer, non-invasive devices to provide a comprehensive assessment of sinus and nasal function.

In addition to airflow, the Sinus and Nasal Physiology Lab also assesses patients who complain of a lack of smell. The lab performs a test with 16 common scents in the form of Sniffin’ Sticks that can objectively measure smell function.

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in more than 29 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the Hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael’s Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

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