How a Sinus CAT Scan Works
If your doctor has ordered you to have a sinus CAT scan, you might be pretty scared about what kind of test it is!
The first thing I want to tell you is that it's completely painless.
This test will show your doctor what's going on in your sinus cavities.
It can help diagnose sinusitis, or inflammation of the membranes of the nasal cavity and sinuses.
It will also reveal any polyps, cysts, or other obstructions that are present.
A CAT scan is the same as a CT scan. CAT stands for computed axial tomography, and it's nothing more than a very sophisticated type of x-ray.
With a regular x-ray, your body is exposed to radiation, and special film is used so that the rays can form a picture. You just see one image for each shot taken by the radiology technician.
With a CAT scan, the machine creates many images. Each image is a cross-section of the body part being scanned.
To understand this, think of what you see when you slice a loaf of bread into half-inch slices. The slices look alike at first glance, but if you look closely you see differences. Each one shows different air pockets in the bread or a different shape to the structure of the loaf.
The same thing is true of the sinus CAT scan of your sinuses. With these many views, a doctor specially trained to interpret this test can look at your sinuses, tiny section by tiny section, to make a diagnosis. He'll send a report to your doctor.
Preparing for a sinus CAT scan
When you go to a hospital or outpatient lab for a CAT scan, you need to schedule it ahead of time.
On the day of your exam, wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes so that you'll feel relaxed during the test. Most labs will let you remain in your own clothes rather than a hospital gown.
Don't bother to wear a necklace or hair accessories, because you'll have to remove them. If you have ever experienced claustrophobia, tell the technician ahead of time so that he or she can take steps to keep you assured during the exam.
With a CAT scan, you need to lie down on a table. The way you lay will depend on the hospital doing the procedure. Some labs prefer that you remain on your back, face up.
Others will ask you to lie face down. In that case, there will be a cushion to keep the front of your face stable and comfortable, but there is also plenty of space so that you can breathe air in through your nose.
The table moves into a tunnel so that the machine, allowing radiation to scan all the way around your head, surrounds your head. During the test, the technician will reposition your head a couple times, or will ask you to turn your head.
The Sinus CAT Scans - a word about injections
The entire test will take about fifteen minutes, but you will only undergo scanning for about five minutes.
During the test the technician will leave you alone in the room, but he or she will be able to hear you at all times. This is to protect the technician from absorbing unnecessary radiation.
You'll only be exposed to a small amount of radiation, the same amount that you would normally pick up during a six-month period.
But you can understand that it's best for the technician who performs these tests all day long to avoid unnecessary exposure. If your child is the patient, you'll be allowed to remain in the room.
Just a word about injections that are sometimes given: In some tests, doctors request a contrast study. This means the technician gives you a small injection of iodine dye so that the test will show what your anatomy looks like with the dye compared to without dye.
Contrast studies are rarely done for sinus CAT scans. If your doctor does order a contrast study, it will just be a little injection in your arm.
It only takes a day or two for your doctor to get the results. The technician who does your test will see your film before the doctor does, but he or she is not qualified to interpret it and is not allowed to tell you what he thinks.
CAT scans were introduced as a diagnostic tool in the 1970s. Back then they were viewed as a wonderful but very expensive addition to the diagnostic tests available for your doctor to order.
Nowadays, they are used routinely, but they are still considered to be very informative. They yield a great deal of information with very little discomfort for the patient.
They are still very expensive although they do not cost as much as MRI exam so just to be safe, check with your insurance to make certain they cover the procedure.
It's also very important to ask if the lab where you want to go is in network with your insurance. That will make a very big difference in your share of the cost!
A sinus CAT scan can be interesting but it is just a step in understanding and treating your acute or recurrent sinus infections.
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