Understanding Turbinate Hypertrophy: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatments

Wyndly Care Team
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Should turbinates be removed?

Turbinates should not be entirely removed as they play a crucial role in humidifying and filtering the air we breathe. However, in cases of chronic nasal obstruction, a procedure called turbinate reduction can be performed to alleviate symptoms, but complete removal is typically avoided.

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What Are Enlarged (Swollen) Turbinates?

Enlarged or swollen turbinates, also known as turbinate hypertrophy, occur when the turbinates - scroll-shaped bones in the nasal cavity that regulate airflow - increase in size. This enlargement can impede normal breathing, leading to a variety of discomforts or symptoms.

Symptoms of Enlarged Nasal Turbinates

The symptoms of enlarged nasal turbinates can vary but primarily include nasal congestion. This congestion often alternates from one nostril to the other and is generally worse at night. Additional symptoms may include a runny nose, postnasal drip, snoring, and a reduced sense of smell. In severe cases, enlarged turbinates might cause difficulty sleeping due to obstructed airflow, a condition often confused with sleep apnea. These symptoms can significantly impact an individual's quality of life and may require medical attention to rectify. If you're experiencing these symptoms, it might be due to inferior turbinate hypertrophy, a common cause of a stuffy nose.

What Is Turbinate Hypertrophy?

Turbinate hypertrophy is a medical condition where the turbinates in the nose become enlarged, leading to nasal obstruction. The turbinates are important structures that help regulate airflow, humidify, and filter the air we breathe. However, when they become swollen or enlarged, they can block the nasal passageways, causing discomfort and breathing difficulties.

Signs and Symptoms of Turbinate Hypertrophy

People with turbinate hypertrophy often experience symptoms similar to those of a chronic cold. These include nasal congestion or blockage, often more severe in one nostril than the other. They may also experience other symptoms such as a runny nose, postnasal drip, snoring, and difficulties sleeping due to obstructed airflow, a symptom often confused with sleep apnea. In some cases, individuals might have a decreased sense of smell. If you're experiencing persistent nasal congestion, it might be due to inferior turbinate hypertrophy, a common cause of a stuffy nose.

How Is Turbinate Hypertrophy Diagnosed?

Diagnosis of turbinate hypertrophy involves a medical history review and a physical examination by a healthcare professional, typically an Otorhinolaryngologist (ENT specialist). During the examination, the doctor will examine your nasal passages to assess the size of the turbinates and look for other potential issues.

The primary tool used in diagnosing turbinate hypertrophy is a nasal endoscope, a flexible or rigid tube with a camera at the end that allows the doctor to get a detailed view of the inside of your nostrils. The doctor may also use an otoscope, a tool typically used to examine the ear, but can also provide a quick and effective way to observe the nasal turbinates.

In some cases, additional tests such as allergy tests, CT scans or MRIs might be ordered to rule out other conditions or to get a more detailed look at the sinuses and turbinates. A thorough examination is critical, as often turbinate hypertrophy can be misdiagnosed as other conditions like sinusitis or adenoid hypertrophy.

What Are the Non-Surgical Treatments for Swollen Turbinates?

The non-surgical treatments for swollen turbinates, or turbinate hypertrophy, typically consist of medications, lifestyle adjustments, and allergy management strategies. These treatments aim to reduce inflammation and congestion, improving airflow and relieving the symptoms.


Several types of medications can be effective in treating swollen turbinates. Nasal corticosteroid sprays can help reduce inflammation and swelling in the nasal passages. Antihistamines can be useful if allergies are contributing to the problem. Decongestants may provide short-term relief, but they should not be used for long periods as they can worsen symptoms over time.

Lifestyle Adjustments

Certain lifestyle adjustments can help manage turbinate hypertrophy symptoms. These can include avoiding known allergens, using a humidifier to moisten the air in your home, and practicing good hygiene to prevent respiratory infections. Staying well-hydrated and using a saline nasal spray can also help keep your nasal passages moist and reduce congestion.

Allergy Management

If your turbinate hypertrophy is due to allergies, effective allergy management can help reduce symptoms. This can include taking prescribed allergy medications, undergoing allergy shots (immunotherapy), or making changes to your environment to reduce exposure to allergens. It's important to work with a healthcare professional to identify your specific allergens and develop a personalized treatment plan.

What Is Turbinate Reduction?

Turbinate reduction is a surgical procedure aimed at reducing the size of the turbinates to improve airflow through the nasal passages. The turbinates are thin, scroll-shaped bones in the nasal cavity that filter, humidify, and warm the air we breathe.

How Does Turbinate Reduction Work?

Turbinate reduction works by decreasing the size of the turbinates, which are often enlarged in cases of turbinate hypertrophy. The procedure involves removing a portion of the turbinate or shrinking it through various methods, such as radiofrequency ablation or coblation. This reduction in turbinate size increases the space within the nasal passages, improving airflow and reducing symptoms of nasal obstruction.

Benefits of Turbinate Reduction

The benefits of turbinate reduction include improved airflow, reduced nasal congestion, and enhanced breathing. It can also alleviate symptoms associated with turbinate hypertrophy, such as sleep disturbances and sinus pressure. By addressing these issues, turbinate reduction can significantly improve the quality of life for individuals suffering from chronic nasal obstruction.

Risks Associated with Turbinate Reduction

As with any surgical procedure, turbinate reduction carries some risks. These can include bleeding, infection, and changes in the sense of smell. Some patients may also experience a condition called "empty nose syndrome," a rare but serious complication characterized by a sensation of nasal obstruction despite wide-open nasal passages.

Turbinate Reduction Procedure Expectations

The turbinate reduction procedure is typically performed in an outpatient setting under local or general anesthesia. The specific technique used can vary based on the patient's condition and the surgeon's expertise. The procedure itself usually takes less than an hour, and patients can often return home the same day.

Recovery Period After Turbinate Reduction

The recovery period after a turbinate reduction procedure varies from person to person, typically ranging from a few days to a few weeks. Patients may experience some nasal congestion, discomfort, and bloody nasal discharge in the immediate postoperative period. However, regular follow-up appointments and adherence to postoperative care instructions can contribute to a smooth recovery.

What Are the Alternatives to Turbinate Reduction?

There are several non-surgical and surgical alternatives to turbinate reduction for managing the symptoms of turbinate hypertrophy. These options aim to alleviate nasal congestion and improve airflow via the nasal passages.

Non-surgical alternatives include the use of medications such as corticosteroid nasal sprays, antihistamines, and decongestants. These drugs can help reduce inflammation and swelling in the turbinates, relieving nasal congestion. Furthermore, lifestyle modifications such as avoiding known allergens and using a humidifier can also help manage symptoms.

Surgical alternatives to turbinate reduction include procedures like septoplasty, adenoidectomy, and functional endoscopic sinus surgery (FESS). Septoplasty corrects a deviated nasal septum, while adenoidectomy removes enlarged adenoids that are causing nasal obstruction. FESS, on the other hand, is used to treat chronic sinusitis and other sinus conditions that can contribute to nasal congestion and inflammation.

Ultimately, the choice of treatment depends on the individual's specific condition, the severity of their symptoms, the cause of their turbinate hypertrophy, and their response to initial treatments. It's crucial to discuss these options with your ENT specialist to determine the best approach for your situation.

How to Prepare for a Turbinate Reduction Procedure?

Preparing for a turbinate reduction procedure involves several steps to ensure a successful surgery and recovery. This preparation includes pre-operative tests, adjustments to medication, and lifestyle changes.

Pre-operative tests may include blood work, imaging studies, and a physical examination. These tests help your ENT specialist assess your overall health and identify any potential risks or complications associated with surgery.

Adjustments to medication are often necessary before surgery. It's essential to inform your doctor about all prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications you're currently taking. Certain medicines, such as blood thinners, aspirin, and some vitamins, can increase bleeding risks during surgery and may need to be stopped or adjusted.

Lifestyle changes, such as avoiding smoking and alcohol, can also help prepare for surgery. Smoking can slow healing and increase the risk of complications, while alcohol can interact with anesthesia and other medications used during and after surgery.

In addition, you should arrange for someone to drive you home after the procedure, as the effects of anesthesia can impair your ability to drive safely. Lastly, following your doctor's instructions about fasting before the procedure is crucial to prevent complications during anesthesia.

Understanding the procedure and what to expect can also help you prepare mentally for the surgery. You can discuss any concerns or questions with your ENT specialist to help alleviate any anxieties you may have about the procedure. Remember that while turbinate reduction can significantly improve symptoms related to turbinate hypertrophy, it is still a surgical procedure and requires adequate preparation and post-operative care for optimal outcomes.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Turbinate Reduction?

The long-term effects of a turbinate reduction generally include significant improvements in nasal breathing, reduced nasal congestion, and a decrease in sinus infections. However, like all surgical procedures, it may also have potential complications.

The most immediate benefits after recovery from surgery include increased airflow through the nose and reduced symptoms of turbinate hypertrophy. The turbinates play a crucial role in filtering, humidifying, and warming the air entering the nasal passages. After a turbinate reduction, patients often report enhanced breathing capabilities and a significant reduction in snoring and sleep disruptions.

Potential complications, although rare, can occur. These may include excessive dryness in the nose, a condition known as atrophic rhinitis. There's also a chance of developing a condition called empty nose syndrome (ENS), characterized by paradoxical nasal obstruction and a feeling of intense dryness. Both of these conditions are rare and are more likely to occur if too much turbinate tissue is removed during surgery.

It's essential to discuss with your ENT specialist what to expect from the procedure and understand the risks and benefits. The aim of turbinate reduction is to improve your quality of life by enhancing nasal function, and most patients report positive outcomes in the long term.

How Does Turbinate Hypertrophy Relate to a Deviated Septum?

Turbinate hypertrophy and a deviated septum are both common causes of nasal obstruction. They often occur together, and their combined effect can significantly affect breathing through the nose.

A deviated septum, which refers to a displacement of the wall between the nostrils, can cause one side of the nose to be smaller than the other. This often leads to compensatory turbinate hypertrophy. As one side of the nasal passage becomes narrower due to the deviated septum, the turbinate on the opposite side may enlarge to fill the extra space, leading to nasal obstruction.

If you're experiencing symptoms such as nasal congestion, snoring, or difficulty breathing through your nose, it's crucial to consult with an ENT specialist. They can perform a physical examination to determine whether a deviated septum, turbinate hypertrophy, or both are causing your symptoms. Depending on the severity of your condition and the impact on your quality of life, the specialist may recommend various treatment options, ranging from medication to surgery.

What Are the Surgical Treatments for Turbinate Hypertrophy?

Surgical treatments for turbinate hypertrophy aim to reduce the size of the turbinates to restore normal airflow. These treatments may be necessary when non-surgical methods have been ineffective. The type of procedure depends on the severity of the condition and the patient's overall health.

Turbinate Reduction Techniques in Rhinoplasty

Rhinoplasty techniques for turbinate reduction include turbinectomy, where part or all of the turbinate is removed, and turbinoplasty, where the turbinate is reshaped. These procedures can be done using various methods such as radiofrequency ablation, microdebrider-assisted turbinoplasty, or coblation. The choice of technique depends on the patient's specific condition and the surgeon's expertise.

Medical Management of Turbinate Hypertrophy

Before resorting to surgery, turbinate hypertrophy is often initially managed with medications. OTC nasal sprays, prescription corticosteroids, or oral antihistamines. However, if symptoms persist despite medication, or if the condition is causing significant breathing difficulties or sleep disturbances, surgical treatments may be considered. It's crucial to discuss all options with an ENT specialist to determine the best course of action.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is a turbinate a bone?

Yes, turbinates are indeed bones. Specifically, they are long, narrow bones that protrude into the breathing passage of the nose. Their primary function is to help regulate airflow and humidify the air we breathe in, aiding in overall respiratory health.

What causes swollen turbinates in the nose?

Swollen turbinates in the nose, also known as turbinate hypertrophy, are often triggered by chronic sinusitis, allergies, or environmental irritants such as smoke or pollution. These factors lead to inflammation and enlargement of the turbinates, causing symptoms like nasal congestion, difficulty breathing, and snoring.

What are the three sections of the turbinates?

The three sections of the turbinates are the inferior, middle, and superior turbinates. The inferior turbinates regulate airflow and filter impurities, the middle turbinates protect the sinuses, and the superior turbinates are involved in the sense of smell and regulating moisture in the nasal cavity.

What is the meaning of turbinates?

Turbinates, also known as nasal conchae, are long, narrow, curled bone shelves that protrude into the breathing passage of the nose. They help humidify and warm the air entering the nostrils, filter out dust and other particles, and direct airflow to the olfactory region.

What is the role of the turbinates?

The turbinates, located within the nasal passage, play a crucial role in the respiratory system. They warm, humidify, and filter the air we breathe. These structures also direct airflow, support olfaction, and contribute to the immune defense by trapping particles and microorganisms.

How do you know if you have inflamed turbinates?

Inflamed turbinates, also known as turbinate hypertrophy, often present symptoms such as nasal congestion, difficulty breathing through the nose, snoring, and frequent nosebleeds. If these symptoms persist and are affecting your sleep or daily life, it's best to consult with a healthcare provider.

What are the symptoms of a turbinate allergy?

Turbinate allergy, also known as allergic rhinitis, can manifest through symptoms like sneezing, runny or blocked nose, itchy or watery eyes, and an itchy throat, mouth, or ears. Chronic symptoms may include facial pain, loss of smell, headache, and even fatigue or irritability.

Can turbinates cause pain?

Yes, turbinates can cause pain. Turbinates are structures within the nose that help filter, warm, and humidify air. When they become swollen or inflamed due to allergies, sinus infections, or other conditions, they can cause pain, pressure, and difficulty breathing through the nose.

How do you calm inflamed turbinates?

Calming inflamed turbinates can be achieved through several methods. Nasal sprays, decongestants, antihistamines, and corticosteroids can reduce inflammation and congestion. Hydrating the nasal passages with a saline rinse can also help. In severe cases, surgical procedures may be recommended. Always consult with a healthcare professional.

Does Benadryl shrink turbinates?

Benadryl, also known as diphenhydramine, does not shrink turbinates directly. It is an antihistamine that alleviates allergy symptoms by blocking histamine, a substance your body releases during an allergic reaction. This can reduce inflammation and swelling, potentially providing temporary relief for swollen turbinates.

What shrinks nasal turbinates?

Nasal turbinates can be shrunk through medical procedures such as turbinoplasty, where heat energy is used to shrink the turbinate tissue. Medication like nasal corticosteroid sprays can also reduce inflammation and swelling in the turbinates. It's important to consult with a healthcare provider for appropriate treatment.

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