Functional endoscopic sinus surgery

Functional endoscopic sinus surgery (FESS) is a type of paranasal sinus surgery performed intranasally using a rigid endoscope. Its primary objective is to restore physiological ventilation and mucociliary transport .

Paranasal sinus imaging is crucial in preoperative planning and is also increasingly being used intraoperatively (image-guided surgical navigation) to help prevent complications and guide the surgeon.


Indications for endoscopic sinus surgery include:

Certain ophthalmic procedures can also be carried out via endoscopic approach, including:


Endoscopy cannot satisfactorily correct certain conditions; in such cases, an open technique is used. These include:

Radiographic features


CT is the modality of choice for sinonasal surgery planning. A presurgical CT scan is now mandatory before every endoscopic sinus operation, in the interest of minimizing potential complications (see below).

An axial CT scan (1.5 mm slices or thinner) with coronal and sagittal reformation (3 mm slices or thinner) is performed for delineating both sinonasal anatomy and disease extent.


Particular attention should be given to the following structures and anatomic variants, as failure to do so may result in serious complications :


The Lund-Mackay score  is widely used for the radiologic staging of chronic rhinosinusitis.

Of note, CT cannot reliably differentiate between desiccated secretions and allergic fungal sinusitis (AFS), since both are hyperattenuating.


Endoscopic sinus surgery technique is based on the anterior-to-posterior approach of Messerklinger and the posterior-to-anterior approach of Wigand for ethmoidectomy completion. In practice, most surgeons use a combination of both.

In summary, the procedure consists of the following steps , implemented as dictated by the patient's anatomy and extent and severity of disease:

  • the patient is positioned, with their head to the right and the examiner on the patient's right
  • diagnostic nasal endoscopy is performed with 30° rigid nasal endoscopes
  • topical anesthetics are injected; general anesthesia is best used for the pediatric or anxious patient and for long procedures
  • medialisation of the middle concha to expose the ostiomeatal complex
  • uncinectomy: performed with a 0° endoscope
  • maxillary antrostomy
  • removal of the ethmoid bulla
  • removal of the inferomedial part of the vertical middle concha basal lamella for entering the posterior ethmoidal sinus
  • ethmoidectomy; it is important to stay low, so as not to breach the skull base
  • identification of sphenoid face and posterior skull base
  • skull base clearance posterior-to-anterior, with ethmoidal partition removal
  • sphenoid sinusotomy / sphenoidotomy
  • frontal sinusotomy; frontal work reserved for last, lest bleeding from frontal intervention obscures the sinonasal anatomy
  • medialisation of the middle nasal concha and/or middle meatal spacer placement


In general, patient outcomes are excellent  and complication rates are very low, especially in the hands of experienced surgeons.

Major complications

The rate of major complications is less than 0.5%. These include :

Minor complications
Failed FESS

Failed FESS consists of recurring symptoms following the procedure. It is most often due to recurrent disease, anatomical variants or incomplete surgery

  • middle turbinate lateralization: seen in ~30-78% of failed FESS
  • incomplete surgery, including:
    • anterior or posterior ethmoidectomy (~31-74% of failed FESS)
    • uncinectomy (~37% of failed FESS)
    • retained agger nasi cell (~13-49% of failed FESS)
    • Onodi cell misidentified as the sphenoid sinus
  • recurring sinusitis: most often involve the frontal sinus and due to persisting obstruction or postoperative scarring of the frontal sinus outflow tract

See also