Enlarged Turbinates

Turbinates are bony structures inside the nose, covered by soft tissue (mucosa). They regulate airflow and warm and humidify the air you inhale. They do this by swelling up with increased blood flow. 

What are enlarged (swollen) turbinates?

The nose has three pairs of turbinates: superior, middle and inferior. They are located along the sides of both nasal cavities. The inferior nasal turbinates are the largest and located lowest in the nose. They are also the most likely to become enlarged. This condition is called inferior turbinate hypertrophy.

A turbinate becomes enlarged when the mucosa gets inflamed due to rhinitis or chronic sinusitis. Thickened or abnormally positioned turbinate bones can also cause breathing problems. 

Symptoms of enlarged nasal turbinates 

The primary symptom of an enlarged turbinate is nasal obstruction, with airflow blocked in one or both of the nostrils. A deviated septum can also block airflow. The two conditions frequently occur together.

nasal cavity with severe nasal obstruction
Figure A: View of a left nasal cavity. The nasal cavity is completely blocked (obstructed) due to severe swelling of the inferior turbinate.
nasal cavity after inferior turbinate reduction
Figure B: View of a left nasal cavity (from Fig. A). The swelled inferior turbinate was surgically reduced in size allowing air to flow freely throughout the nasal cavity.

Nonsurgical treatments for swollen turbinates

Nonsurgical treatments may improve your breathing. They include:

  • Nasal or oral antihistamines
  • Nasal or oral steroid spray
  • Nasal saline spray or high-volume irrigation
  • Oral decongestants

Surgery for enlarged turbinates

Enlarged nasal turbinates that do not improve with nonsurgical treatment may need surgery. We offer procedures to:

  • Remove a thickened or abnormal turbinate bone
  • Reduce the inside of the mucosa of the affected turbinate 
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