Turbinates are normal structures in the nose that help to filter and warm the air we breathe in through our nose. They look like little bony shelves, covered in mucosal lining. This mucosa can become swollen and enlarged and block the airflow into the nose. In some people the bony part is too large and this causes the whole structure to be large and block the air into the nose. Turbinate swelling is caused by allergies, irritants in the air, hormones, and certain medications.
What are the symptoms of enlarged turbinates?
You may have enlarged turbinates if you have these symptoms:
- Stuffy or congested nose
- Unable to breathe out of one or both sides of your nose
- Alternating sides of your nose feeling blocked
- Mouth breathing
For many people, treatment with medicine such as steroid nose spray works to decrease the turbinate swelling and open the nasal airway. For some people, medical treatment is not enough, and in these cases surgery may be the best option.
Surgery will reduce the size of the turbinate, but not remove them completely. Everyone must have some turbinate structure in the nose, otherwise they will have a dry, crusty nose where air doesn’t flow well and they may still have the sensation of congestion. There are many ways to reduce the size of the turbinate. One method is trimming part of the bone and mucosal lining off, called a partial resection or submucous resection. Another method makes only a small incision and uses an instrument to dissolve the tissue inside and form scar tissue that will shrink the thickness of the lining. This kind of procedure can be done with electrocautery, coblation, radiofrequency ablation, or a microdebrider.
Turbinate surgery is often done at the same time as septoplasty but may be done as a separate procedure, depending on what each patient needs. Turbinate surgery usually takes 15-30 minutes and patients can go home the same day.