The Truth About Sinus Surgery: My Experience

Sinus surgery recovery essentials, what you need to survive sinus surgery, sinus surgery medications

Diagram before and after sinus surgery maxillary antrostomy

On April 24th of this year, I had sinus surgery. The official procedure was called a Maxillary Antrostomy. Basically, my surgeon had to scrape out a ton of scar tissue from my sinuses and remove some pieces of bone to allow better drainage and hopefully reduce my pain and the frequency of infections. Surgery was pretty much the last option to try to relieve my constant sinus pain. We tried everything else out there for the last few years, and nothing gave me any relief. Of course the idea of having a surgery like this made me really nervous, but I was excited to think about how much better I'll be able to breathe after (hopefully). I'm only 23, and I have suffered from chronic sinusitis and pain in my sinuses for almost 10 years. I saw a diagram like this one above during one of my appointments and I thought it was pretty interesting! I have been curious about what my sinuses look like now compared to before surgery.

Sinus surgery CT Scan before and after maxillary antrostomy surgery

Above on the left is a picture from Google of what a normal person's sinuses look like on a CT scan. On the right are mine. They are almost completely blocked off from scar tissue. You sinuses are supposed to show up all black on scans - this means they are full of air (which they are supposed to be). As you can see, mine were mostly grey. This is scar tissue that was blocking the flow of air. Apparently, the scar tissue came from the dozens of bad sinus infections I've had over the years. My doctor said it was no wonder why I have barely ever been able to breathe through my nose and why I always feel congested. I scheduled the surgery the day I had this CT scan done, and then it was just a waiting game. In all my online research, I didn't find too much information about this surgery and the recovery, which is why I wanted to write this post. It's a scary procedure, so it's nice to have some information about it before you go in. I'm obviously not a medical professional though, so if you have any serious questions or concerns, make sure you ask your surgeon and/or pharmacist. 

Sinus surgery recovery essentials, what you need to survive sinus surgery, sinus surgery medications


First things first, let's talk essentials. These are the things I needed after surgery that helped me get through recovery. I recommend getting everything together before surgery, since you sure won't want to after. You'll also need to figure out where you're going to sleep, since you have to keep your head elevated. 

Travel Neck Pillow

I slept in a chair for almost two weeks, and I used a travel neck pillow to support my neck. I can sleep anywhere at any time, so sleeping sitting up didn't really phase me. I'm not sure what I would have done without the neck pillow though, so you should definitely have one ready. 

Cough Drops

Of course I did some research before surgery, and tons of people said to stock up on cough drops before surgery. I was lucky enough to never need them - my throat thankfully never got sore. It's good to be prepared though, so you might want to pick up a bag anyways!

Meals + Snacks

Food-wise, some days I was able to eat normal foods, but on the bad days I couldn't stomach much. I lived off of bread, cinnamon toast, saltine crackers, and apple sauce. I sipped on apple juice mixed with sprite zero for the first two weeks post-op - it really helped calm my stomach (and it tastes delicious).  

To Help with Nausea

As you will learn if you continue to read this post, I vomited a lot in the first two weeks post-op. A puke bucket and Zofran (prescription for nausea) were my BFFs during that time, even though the Zofran honestly didn't help much. Before surgery, I mentioned that I struggle with nausea on a day-to-day basis, so they put a Scolamine patch behind my ear about an hour before surgery. You can keep them on for 3 days to help keep nausea under control. It made a huge difference for me, so be sure to mention this to your surgeon if you are worried about nausea!

Phone Cord

If you're perched on the couch for a week (or more), make sure you have your phone cord plugged in and easy to reach so you don't have to bend over. It seems so obvious, but it's easy to forget during the chaos of the days leading up to surgery!

Sinus surgery recovery essentials, what you need to survive sinus surgery, sinus surgery medications


As far as medications go, I had Zofran like I mentioned above, Extra Strength Tylenol, and my painkillers close by. I also had to use the gauze and tape the surgery center gave me for a few days. I taped a piece of gauze under my nose to catch the icky drainage. A few days after surgery, my doctor ended up sending in a prescription for more Scolamine patches since I had to take the original one off three days post-op. These were lifesavers for me. They majorly helped control my nausea. I can't imagine how bad it would have been without them. For the first week after surgery, they also had me on an antibiotic to prevent infection. I ended up having to do two rounds of steroids post-op, and they also had me start a steroid inhaler for long-term use. More on that later.

Sinus surgery recovery essentials, what you need to survive sinus surgery, sinus surgery medications

Ice Packs

Ice packs were obviously another necessity. They recommend icing on and off in 30 minute increments. I bought two of THESE full-face velcro ice packs and I am seriously so glad I did. They definitely helped reduce the pain and a little bit of the inflammation, and they feel amazing on your face! Having two was ideal, because when the one on my face started to get warm, I could just switch it out with the cold one. I wore them pretty much non-stop for two weeks. They let me take home the hospital ice pack after surgery, but that started leaking almost as soon as I got home. I prefer these velcro ones from Amazon.

Your Mouth

The nastiness in your nose makes your breath smell horrible and leaves a really gross taste in your mouth. Obviously, you should brush your teeth normally after surgery. Don't tell my dentist, but I never use mouthwash on a regular basis. Mouthwash was a savior for me after surgery though, because brushing my teeth didn't really make the bad taste go away. It's also great for rinsing your mouth after puking. 

Neti Pot

Your doctor will tell you to rinse your nose twice a day after surgery with a Neti Pot. I had used one before, so i was used to it. They can be pretty intimidating though, so you might want to practice using it before surgery. 

S U R G E R Y  D A Y

April 24th - the big day. I hardly slept at all the night before because I was super nervous. I had to be checked in to the surgery center at 7:45am, so it was an early wakeup call. When I got there, they had me change into a hospital gown and the anesthesiologist and my surgeon came and talked to me. I had to have an IV put in, which hurt way more than I was expecting. I ended up with a bruise on my forearm the size of a deck of cards because the nurse couldn't get it in and she tried multiple times. She finally ended up putting it in my hand. I don't do well with needles, so that part was hard for me. About an hour before surgery, they had me using Afrin nose spray every 15 minutes to open up my sinuses. That was not super enjoyable (it has a weird taste and feeling). Finally, they wheeled me back to the operating room, and then everything went black.

The surgery took around 45 minutes, and I woke up really frazzled in the post anesthesia care unit. I couldn't stop crying because my neck hurt so bad and I just wanted to see my mom. My oxygen levels kept dropping really low (I think because I was panicking), but eventually I was stable enough to go back to my room and see my mom. I was surprised that my throat didn't hurt since they had a breathing tube down my throat during surgery. I obviously couldn't breathe out of my nose after surgery, but the only immediate pain I was experiencing was in my neck (I must have been flexing my neck muscles really hard before I went in). They gave me some pain meds and some ice chips and monitored me for about an hour. They took the IV out and I finally got to go home. The whole thing from the time we got to the hospital to the time I got home was about 5 hours.

My nausea was honestly pretty non-existent on surgery day, so I was able to eat normally. I had some mac and cheese, a shake, toast, and an Orange Julius. I brushed my teeth a few hours after getting home, and it was pretty nasty. A lot of blood and mucus came out of my mouth and throat. When I wasn't eating, I was sleeping. I had a few really bad streaks where the pain and headaches were pretty extreme, but other than that I slept almost the entire day/night (sitting up, of course). My mom woke me up every 4ish hours to take my pain meds, which helped A LOT. This is definitely something you should do if you're having this surgery yourself - you don't want to miss any does of pain medications in the beginning. 

Sinus surgery recovery essentials, what you need to survive sinus surgery, sinus surgery medications

D A Y  T W O  P O S T - O P

I pretty much slept non-stop the two days following surgery, other than waking up for meds. Day two was the worst so far (which I realize isn't saying much). The puking started today, and it was extra gross. TMI...every time I puked, it was black and thick like tar. The nausea and stomach pain were bad, and so was the pain in my face, neck, and eyes. It was so painful that it kept waking me up.

Sinus surgery recovery essentials, what you need to survive sinus surgery, sinus surgery medications

D A Y  F O U R  P O S T - O P

On this day, the nausea really kicked into high gear. On an average day, I struggle with nausea, so I knew this recovery would probably be hard. There was a lot of drainage from my sinuses going down my throat, and there wasn't much I could do to stop it. I threw up more today - my stomach was pretty much just filled with blood and scabs from my sinuses. I felt a tiny bit better after I threw up. For pretty much the last four days, I've felt a non-stop popping sensation from my sinuses. It's really unpleasant, and it makes my sinuses feel even more pressurized. I think it has to do with my nose being full of packing. 

D A Y  F I V E  P O S T - O P

At this point, the packing in my nose was starting to become unbearable. I was so ready to have it removed (honestly, I briefly considered pulling it out myself). My nose was 100% plugged, so every time I swallowed or talked it also hurt my ears. I took my first post-surgery shower on this day, and that helped me feel a little better. I had to take a cold shower to make sure I didn't irritate my sinuses, and that was not super enjoyable. I had to put on another Scolamine patch when I got out of the shower to help manage my nausea. I started to walk around a little more, which you're supposed to  do to help reduce the chance of getting a blood clot. 

D A Y  S I X  P O S T - O P

Today I had my first follow up appointment with my surgeon. He finally removed the packing and suctioned out my sinuses with a little vacuum thing. I'm not gonna lie, having the packing removed hurt like you wouldn't believe (I even took pain medication before I went, so I can't image how it would have felt without that). It was extremely painful and uncomfortable. The sponges were completely soaked with blood, and they were huge. They're basically like a giant tampon shoved deep into your nose. I was hoping that I would feel some instant relief of pressure when he took them out, but that did not happen. The suctioning part was pretty gross too, and it was really uncomfortable. I bled a lot after the packing came out, which surprised me because I hardly bled at all after surgery.

My surgeon said everything was healing well, and he said that it was normal to still feel as bad as I did. He said everyone recovers differently from this surgery. I left my appointment with my sinuses feeling very open - more open and clear than they had felt in a long time! My surgeon told me to start using a Neti Pot to rinse my sinuses twice a day until my next appointment. My sinuses were still healing, so they weren't able to "clean" themselves out like they usually do. It was really important to keep the inside of my sinuses clean at this point so scar tissue doesn't build up again, because then we'd be back to square one. After my appointment, I ended up taping a little gauze to the end of my nose to catch the blood coming out (it would bleed in random spurts).

Sinus surgery recovery essentials, what you need to survive sinus surgery, sinus surgery medications

D A Y  S E V E N  P O S T - O P

I started to feel kind of weird emotionally on this day, and it continued on for weeks. It was depression-like feelings, but also very hard to explain. I'm one of those people that does a ton of research online about anything medical that I'm experiencing. I read an article that said post-surgery feelings of depression are normal, and I think that must be what I was going through. 

D A Y  N I N E  P O S T - O P

Today I was feeling really frustrated and sad. I felt like my pain was getting worse, and the last couple of days were almost unbearable. I assumed I would be starting to feel better by now and return to my normal daily activities, but I wasn't even able to move off of the couch. My nausea was on another level from all the post-nasal drip down my throat (still). I was still taking prescription nausea medicine, and even that wasn't helping. It had been a miserable few days of constant puking and extreme nausea. On top of that, it felt like someone dropped a brick on my head. The pressure in my sinuses/head/neck/eyes was excruciating. I was starting to wonder if I had an actual sinus infection. The Neti Pot still wouldn't go out the other nostril, so it basically felt like I was being waterboarded when I used it. I blew my nose before bed and the biggest blood clot I've ever seen came out of my nose. I was shocked that something so huge could come out of there - it was the length of the palm of my hand and over an inch thick. I thought that would help with the nausea too, but it didn't. 

D A Y  T E N  P O S T - O P

I still felt extremely nauseous 10 days post-op. I finally worked up the courage to take another shower midway through the day, and that helped a tiny bit. I put a new Scopolamine patch behind my ear after I showered, as that seemed to be the only thing that helped my nausea. The only thing I was able to eat was bread and applesauce, and I was drinking water and Sprite in attempt to reduce the nausea. 

D A Y  E L E V E N  P O S T - O P

Today was the first day I started to feel even relatively okay. I slept in my bed for the first time in two weeks. I tried to sleep laying down for the first time...that was a BAD idea. I thought it would be okay this far out from surgery, but when I tried to lay down, the pressure in my face was unbearable. For some reason I was super tired all day, even though I woke up at 3pm. I was finally able to get the Neti Pot to come out my other nostril a little bit, but it didn't really help with the swelling inside of my sinuses. I still felt like I had a really bad sinus infection. My nose felt really really dry when I woke up, so I was still using the saline spray my doctor prescribed pretty frequently. Towards the end of the day, the pressure in my face got pretty bad again. It seemed to be the worst right away in the morning and late at night.

D A Y  F I F T E E N  P O S T - O P

I had another follow up appointment today with my surgeon. I was prepared for the worst - I heard at this appointment they scrape a bunch of debris and crusty stuff out of your nose to help it heal better. It seemed like my Neti Pot attempts weren't doing much, so I figured there was a lot of mucus and scabbing stuck in there. To my surprise, my surgeon said that it's healing really nicely and he's happy with the progress the tissue has made. I voiced my concerns about how I still had no energy and felt horrible pretty much every day, and he said that in all reality I probably won't feel 100% back to myself for about 3 months. This bummed me out a little bit, because it has been extremely hard for me to attempt to get back into work and school, and it seems like the end is nowhere in sight.

I was really happy that he didn't have to scrape anything out of my nose. It was such a relief! The swelling was still really bad at this point, so I pretty much had a headache 24/7. My surgeon prescribed me a short but strong round of steroids to help the inflammation go down. I was on that for 6 days. The first day, the dose is the highest (I think it was 6 pills), and each day tapers down the dose a little bit. The very first day of being on this steroid, I was in shock at how much better I felt. My nose has never felt more open and clear. For the first time in my life, I left like I could take a deep breath through my nose and get a sufficient amount of air. Not gonna lie, I cried happy tears. This happiness was short-lived though, and as the doses started to taper down, the swelling came back in full force. I was hoping that the steroid would make the inside swelling go down, and then it wouldn't come back. I was wrong. It came back in full force (arguably worse) as soon at the steroid course was over. I was really bummed about this, because I knew how great I could feel, but it seemed so far out of reach AGAIN.

Sinus surgery recovery essentials, what you need to survive sinus surgery, sinus surgery medications

O N E  M O N T H  P O S T - O P

Exactly one month after surgery, and I had another doctor's appointment with my surgeon. The last few days, I had been experiencing the most excruciating headaches of my life, and of course the inside of my sinuses still felt very swollen. I had a bout of chronic migraines a few years ago, and every time I had a migraine they presented exactly the same way. I was starting to wonder if these headaches I was experiencing after surgery were actually migraines, but they have no similarities with my usual migraines and don't seem to respond to my migraine medicine. I had also been having intermittent gushes of clear fluid leaking out of my right nostril at random times. It was probably just allergies, but my surgeon was concerned about it, so he made me come in today - so, this was an unscheduled post-op appointment.

My surgeon took a look up my nose and checked things out. He said that in my sinuses on one side, the swelling has gone down a lot. The sinuses on the other side were not in as great of shape though. He said that said was still very inflamed and "crusty" (that word grosses me out so much). He said overall, both sides are quite a bit more inflamed than they should be this far along in the healing process. He said my severe headaches were probably from a combination of the inflammation, seasonal allergies, and my weak immune system (it's been like that pretty much my whole life). Apparently, some people have a much harder time recovering from the anesthesia and painkillers, and those can both cause severe headaches. I was curious if he had ever seen the presentation of migraines change after surgery, and he said it's hard to say because migraines are so complex.

We came up with a new plan to hopefully speed up my recovery. He switched out the nasal spray I've used for years (Flonase), for a Flonase inhaler (yes, for your lungs). It's kind of weird, but they have you buy a baby bottle nipple and cut the tip off and then put the nipple on the inhaler. Then, you shove the nipple up your nose and use the inhaler. I guess they do this because this form of Flonase is less drying for your nose, and it also reaches farther into your sinuses because the inhaler pushes it farther. It's definitely going to take some getting used to, but my doctor thinks it will help a lot. He also started me on an oral steroid, Prednisone, for 6 days. The goal was to get the inflammation down, and then everything else should get better from there.

Update on the Prednisone and inhaler a few days later: I didn't notice any drastic night and day differences yet, but it seems to be gradually improving. The Prednisone leaves the worst taste in your mouth, even if you eat right after it. I'm not a fan of that. If you ever have to use an inhaler up your nose, I have a little advice. Make sure you tilt your head forward when you use it, so it doesn't go down your throat. Make sure you plug the nostril you're not spraying into tightly with your finger! The first time I used it, I didn't do that and I felt like the spray literally went in one side and out the other. It's a little stronger of a puff than I was expecting, which makes sense, but it doesn't hurt or taste bad or anything. It's also important to shake it before every use, and to gently inhale as you press it (don't snort).

Between the first and second months after surgery I started to have the WEIRDEST problem ever and I felt like I was going insane. I kept smelling a combination of what I imagine a dead body to smell like mixed with a dumpster mixed with a wet dog. I searched all over my house for what could be causing the smell, and I showered like 3 times a day because I thought maybe it was me. I was still doing my nasal rinses and using the saline spray, but that didn't help. I finally came to my own conclusion that there was something gross stuck in my sinuses (like a scab or dead skin) that was started to decay and smell super bad. This was seriously torture - I could not get the smell to leave my nose. It got so bad that it was making me nauseous and I completely lost my appetite. A few days after the smell got really bad, I blew my nose and a HUGE nasty chunk of what I think looks like bone and a ton of bright green infected mucus came out like a bullet. It felt like a cork popping off of a champagne bottle. I am pretty sure my theory was right, because two days after that, the smell was completely gone. I still do occasionally get that same bad smell "stuck" in my nose, but it usually doesn't last for very long.

What sinus surgery recovery is really like: a graph

W A S  I T  W O R T H  I T ?

The Million Dollar Question

The recovery from sinus surgery was much more difficult than I expected it to be. I read online that nobody tells you how bad it is because you'd never go through with it. I know in the long run it will be worth it, but for almost a full month I felt the worst I've ever felt in my entire life. Even as I write this almost 2 months after surgery, I'm still not back to my old self. My biggest piece of advice is that it's important to stay positive throughout the whole experience, even though it's hard at times. Recovery is different for everyone, and I know mine was more difficult because of my health history.

Overall, I do feel like I'm getting slightly better every day. For awhile I had a lot of days where it felt like I took 100 steps back, but I learned to accept that it's just part of the healing process and it will get better. My exhaustion is still at an all time high, and it's taking a toll on me mentally too. Sinus surgery is no joke! I'm glad I did the surgery. From my perspective, one side of my sinuses feels completely open. The other side still feels a little blocked and stuffy, but it's better than it was before surgery. I hope things continue to open up and get better as time goes on!

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