Lend an Ear

October 31, 2014

Otolaryngologists are the doctors who treat a wide range of problems that afflict the ear, nose, throat, head and neck—from swimmer’s ear to tonsillitis to head and neck cancers. We asked Brett Levine, MD, a board-certified otolaryngologist head and neck surgeon, to update us on the latest treatments in the field. Dr. Levine, who is on staff at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center Torrance, earned his medical degree in 1989 from the University of Southern California and completed his residency training in 1994 at the University of Pennsylvania. He specializes in sinusitis and sinus surgery.

What is interesting about this specialty of ENT?

“I think the field of ENT gives us the opportunity to work with a broad range of problems and to potentially see rapid improvement from treatment.”

What do you like best about your  job?

“Ninety-nine percent of the problems an ENT sees, we can fix. It’s very gratifying to help patients feel better and enjoy their lives better. There has been a number of treatment advances that have helped our patients tremendously. And in medicine, there is an art as well as a science to taking care of patients. It’s not about just fixing the problem. It’s about making people feel better.”

What are some of the changes in treating sinusitis?

“Over the 20 years I’ve been in practice, there have been major changes. Most conservatively, you can now purchase over- the-counter, sterile nasal saline sprays, which can be an inexpensive, effective, benign and quick way to rinse your nose. Washing your nose several times a day may help decrease allergies and improve a mild sinus problem or help resolve it. You can use nasal steroid sprays once a day for weeks, months or years, and these sprays decrease swelling and allergies and help control chronic sinus problems.”

What has changed in terms of sinus surgery?

“Over the past five years, balloon sinus surgery has become available. This is a leading-edge technique. For patients who have not improved with medical therapy and do not want or need traditional endoscopic surgery, this is a great option. The procedure is performed in-office with a topical anesthetic. A small balloon is placed in the nose and inflated without any cutting or removal of tissue. The balloon is then removed, and the opening to the sinuses will end up bigger. A small change in the opening makes a world of difference in the sinuses.”

What are the benefits of balloon sinus surgery?

“With traditional sinus surgery you may have to take a few days off work. With balloon sinus surgery you can be back to work the next day. There is less bleeding, less risk of infection and lower cost. There is a large population of people who don’t need endoscopic sinus surgery under general anesthesia but who still keep getting sick. This may be a viable option for those people.”

Is sinus surgery easier for patients than in the past?

“Things have changed so much since I completed my training 20 years ago. We used to pack patients’ noses with sterile gauze after surgery. Now we use a gel that washes away and does not need to be removed. There also are gentle stents

What other conditions are particular to our Southern California market?

“Southern California is a major market for TV and the arts where people rely on their voices in their profession. For those who develop or have voice problems, we now have video stroboscopy equipment that helps us see the vocal cords as they move and helps us diagnose problems previously not easily seen, such as a cyst, nodule or scar that interrupts the normal vibration of the vocal cords and affects voice quality. We also work with speech therapists and singing coaches to optimize our patients’ vocal abilities.”


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