— -- For more than 18 years, Nadia Campbell had no sense of taste or smell and lived with terrible sinus pain. Even after seeing five specialists and undergoing three surgeries, the 38-year-old said she was still left with a perpetually runny nose that kept her up all night.
“Every day there was a problem,” said Campbell, of Oak Lawn, Illinois. “I had a dry mouth from breathing through my mouth and constant headaches.”
That all changed after doctors at Loyola University Health in Maywood, Illinois, diagnosed her with Samter’s triad, a newly recognized medical condition involving a combination of nasal polyps, asthma and a sensitivity to aspirin.
“My patients typically come in carrying a thick folder of medical records because they have tried for a long time to find a cure for their illness,” said Dr. Monica Patadia, the board-certified head and neck surgeon who treated Campbell at Loyola.
More than 37 million Americans have at least one sinus problem a year, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, making it one of the most common medical conditions the average person experiences.
Samter’s triad, also known as aspirin exacerbated respiratory disease, or AERD, affects an estimated 10 percent of people with asthma. About 40 percent of people with both asthma and nasal polyps and who are also sensitive to aspirin may have Samter’s, studies suggest.
The cause of the condition is not completely understood, though researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston believe it may be triggered in part by high levels of cells called eosinophils in the blood and sinuses, which leads to chronic inflammation of the airways. Patients often show elevated levels of another type of cell known as leukocytes, particularly after taking aspirin.
Once the problem was diagnosed, Campbell said the treatment itself was simple and painless. First Dr. Patadia performed outpatient surgery to remove the polyps and open up her sinus cavities. Next, she placed temporary spacers in Campbell’s nasal passages that were removed once the healing process was far enough along.
After surgery, Campbell spent several days undergoing a process to desensitize her to aspirin. This has enabled doctors to wean her off the strong steroid medications she took for almost two decades.
Patadia said the surgery was a success.
“When the sinuses light up like a pumpkin or jack o’ lantern you know the sinuses are wide open and that is a good thing,” she said of looking at Campbell’s sinuses with an endoscope.
Campbell said despite a few lingering allergies, she is thrilled with the results. When she first experienced the feeling of breathing freely again, she said she cried with relief.
“I now sleep through the night and I can taste food again,” she said. “No one can really understand what it’s like when you can’t do those things.”