NEW ORLEANS - Most of us know the feeling of having a sinus infection, or a cold that stops up the sinuses. But a Tickfaw teen never could have imagined what caused his problems, and he got to a specialist just in the nick of time.
Starting in seventh grade, Nicholas Pierre, who is now 15, started having sinus problems. By his freshman year at Hammond High this past fall, problems progressed. He couldn't smell, distinguish tastes, breathe through his nose. Then he began to get sleep apnea, headaches and blurred vision in his left eye.
"The doctor says we're making preparations for Nicholas at Children's Hospital emergency room, that we found a tumor. I went to pieces and he went to pieces," said Albert Pierre, Nicholas' father.
But doctors at Children's Hospital suspected something else and sent Nicholas to Dr. Adil Fatakia, an ENT and surgeon who specializes in sinus disorders. It was something else. The very next day, he took Nicholas into surgery at West Jefferson Medical Center and made all of his sinuses wider. Dr. Fatakia did all the surgery through the nose, with no cutting on Nicholas' face or head.
"In his case we were fortunate enough that we caught it just before it seemed to have penetrated into the brain," said Dr. Fatakia.
Nicholas had allergic fungal sinusitis. We all breathe this fungus, which is normally in the air, but he is allergic to it. It caused all of his sinuses to become inflamed and blocked with mucus and pus, pushing so hard on the bones that his eyes grew wider apart. It almost broke through the barrier to the sterile area of the brain.
"I can't believe I was walking around for almost three years, four years with that and not noticing it," he said.
"As long as he's diligent with his rinses and topical medications, he should lead a significantly improved quality of life. There's no certainty that we won't have to do another procedure down the road," said Dr. Fatakia.
Since Nicholas will continue breathing in the fungus to which he is allergic, he'll continue getting medication in his sinuses.
Just three weeks post-op, he can smell, and doctors are hopeful the blurry vision in one eye will get better.
Diabetics and people with compromised immune systems are at higher risk to get a more advanced form of this fungus infection.
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