The nasal turbinates are located inside the nose, 'upstream' from the flare of the nostrils. They are positioned along the exterior sides of the right and left nasal passages opposite the septum. The turbinates consist of three ridges of thin, shell-like bone known as the nasal conchae. The ridges are named for their position: the superior, the middle and the inferior turbinates. Just beneath each concha is a passage known as the meatus, named for the adjacent turbinate: superior, middle and inferior meatus. The surfaces of the turbinates and the meatus passages lined with mucous membranes, which helps to cleanse, warm up and moisturize outside air as it is inhaled through the nose and into the lungs. The tissue of the turbinates is rich in blood vessels. The variable blood supply allows the turbinate surfaces to expand or contract. This helps regulate the temperature of incoming air before it reaches the upper nasal passages and travels to the lungs. It also helps to manage the volume and velocity of air inhaled through the nose as it travels through the nasal cavity to the throat and the lungs.
The turbinates can be chronically enlarged or swollen, a condition known as hypertrophy. Some people are born with larger-than-normal turbinates. Others may experience hypertrophy caused by chronic allergy to pollen, pet dander or even foods and medications, or by exposure to irritants such as dust, chemicals or smoke. Sometimes a deviated septum can disrupt the flow of inhaled air in a way that inflames the turbinate tissue. Hypertrophic turbinates can impede or shut down the flow of air through the nasal passages. This can trigger the feeling of stuffed up nose, and even set off night time snoring in some people.
It's recommended that people who suffer from chronically blocked nasal airways should see a doctor to investigate the cause, and seek a referral to an otolaryngologist, or ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT). After a thorough physical examination which may include the use of an endoscope (a camera introduced through the nose, so that the doctor can clearly assess the cause and degree of swelling). The specialist may recommend decongestants (for allergy) or prescribe antibiotics (for bacterial infection) as a short-term treatment, to reduce the hypertrophy and allow normal breathing. If medication doesn't help, your doctor might recommend a surgical procedure to remove or reshape the swollen tissue.
Depending on the nature of the obstruction, the surgical options include turbinectomy, in which all or part of the inferior turbinate is removed. Depending on how extensive the doctor feels the surgery might be, the procedure might be performed in a hospital or an endosurgery center under local or general anesthesia. Another approach is called turbinoplasty (or outfracture technique); in this procedure, an instrument is placed in the nose to alter the shape and position of the turbinate, and sometimes to remove some of the tissue. To help keep you pain-free during the surgery, you might need general or local anesthesia. A third technique uses laser or radiofrequency tools to shrink the turbinate tissue. A more recent improvement on these techniques is COBLATION◊ technology, which can reshape the tissue at much lower temperature than radiofrequency tools.*
* Woloszko, J., Kwende M., Stalder K.R., "COBLATION◊ in otolaryngology", Proc SPIE Int Soc Opt Eng., Vol 4949:341-352 June, 2003 - accessed August 8, 2017
The information listed on this site is for informational and educational purposes and is not meant as medical advice. Every patient's case is unique and each patient should follow his or her doctor's specific instructions. Please discuss nutrition, medication and treatment options with your doctor to make sure you are getting the proper care for your particular situation.