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New Surgery Clears Clogged Noses

February 18, 1998

NEW YORK (AP) _ With her nose so swollen from allergies that the indentations on the side had disappeared, Nancy Bochicchio told her doctor she’d try anything to help her breathe through her nose again.

``I was up all night long. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t drink,″ said the 36-year-old Wall Street office manager, who has suffered from bouts of chronic congestion for 15 years. ``I wanted to cut my head off.″

The doctor offered to enroll her in a clinical test of an experimental surgery to do what antihistamines and nasal sprays often fail to do for patients with chronic nasal congestion: open the nostrils and let the air in. Half an hour after the surgery began she was on the street and breathing easier.

Somnus Medical Technologies Inc. was expected to make its surgical device to reduce swollen nasal tissues widely available to doctors beginning today. The machine, already in use to shrink the clogged throat tissues of snorers, received Food and Drug Administration approval for clearing nasal tissues in December.

Perhaps the biggest selling point for patients who are popping allergy medicines: Somnus hopes to persuade many insurers to cover the procedure.

The surgery isn’t for most people, but it offers an alternative for many of the chronically congested, who help fund the $3.5 billion market in over-the-counter allergy drugs. An estimated 20 percent of the population, or more than 55 million Americans, suffers from some type of chronic rhinitis, which can cause nasal tissues to inflame.

``A good portion of that population might, in fact, be candidates for this,″ said Dr. Lionel Nelson, an otolaryngologist at Stanford University Medical Center who has performed the surgery three times.

The cost is likely to vary from one doctor to another, but Nelson expects one procedure to cost about $650. Some patients require two.

Unlike laser surgery, the Somnoplasty technology works at relatively low temperatures and leaves outer tissue intact with a small cut on the surface.

A radio frequency generator connected to a narrow needle penetrates the surface of the turbinate, bony, mucous-covered nasal tissues, and destroys a small area of inner tissue by generating a heat of 158 to 176 degrees, well below the boiling point.

The technology has been used by several companies to shrink swollen prostate and gynecological tissues and to kill cancer cells in the lungs and kidneys.