A team of Ear, Nose and Throat physicians at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center performed a first-of-its-kind intranasal cryotherapy procedure at LRMC, April 1.
The procedure, which also marks the first time it’s been performed anywhere in Germany, uses cryoablation to freeze nerves in the back of the nose to treat chronic rhinitis, or allergy-like symptoms which last more than a month.
“We are really excited to be able to bring this service to (LRMC) because it allows us to treat patients with non-allergic and allergic rhinitis,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jessica Peck, chief, Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic, LRMC. “It is a procedure that's been performed in the United States now for about two years but was not approved by our host nation until late last year.”
For Americans in Germany suffering from allergic rhinitis, the procedure offers relief from allergy season in the country where studies from the Robert Kroch Institute (the German equivalent to the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) show at least 20 percent of the adult population suffer from allergies. Rhinitis, also known as coryza, is the irritation and inflammation of the mucous membrane inside the nasal cavity walls and usually characterized by symptoms such as runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, and post-nasal drip.
“This is a common constellation of symptoms that we see, especially here in Europe, where the allergies are sometimes higher, or different than what we see in the (U.S.)” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Christopher Tonn, one of the ENT physicians who introduced the procedure to LRMC. “(The symptoms) can really affect (patients’) quality of life. It can affect physical fitness, as they may have restricted ability to breathe through their nose during activity, cardiovascular activity, can even affect their sleep. And all those things contribute to their quality of life and their readiness.”
Welcoming the treatment and becoming Germany’s first patient to undergo the procedure, was long-time non-allergic rhinitis sufferer, Diana Bryant.
“I was diagnosed more than 20 years ago with vasomotor rhinitis, which means [symptoms are triggered by many] things from the environment.” explains Bryant. “I've been on multiple medications over the years, two or three different nasal sprays, two or three different medications, and I would have to switch back and forth between them over the years for them to continue working.”
According to Peck, by using the cryotherapy procedure patients are more likely to reduce medication intake, and more tolerant to their environment.
“In rhinitis, the nerve is kind of always over-reactive and overstimulated,” said Peck. “A lot of times with non-allergic rhinitis, it's not a traditional allergy. You don't have a protein in the air or pollen in the air that gets into your nose, it's more internally driven with those nerves being super sensitive to things that traditionally don’t cause allergies, like strong smells, or changes in temperature or changes in your own hormones.”
Only two weeks following the treatment, Bryant states she is already noticing a difference in her symptoms.
“It takes about 30 days to see the full effects after the surgery and so there's a slow onset of symptom relief,” explains Peck. “But it's a permanent improvement.”
Just as the minimally-invasive surgery takes only 15 minutes, recovery from the procedure is also speedy.
“Patients wake up saying they feel like they have an ice cream headache,” explains Peck. “We try to have them drink some warm tea to kind of help warm things back up. They're able to go home that day and back to work the very next day.”
Although the procedure at LRMC is only available to eligible beneficiaries living overseas, Peck and Tonn’s efforts to bring the procedure to Germany will also benefit host-nation providers, through collaboration and experience.