Nasal Turbinates


Nasal turbinates (conchae) are structures located in your nasal cavities.

Made of a thin, bony material and covered by spongy mucous membranes, turbinates play an important role in filtering, naturally humidifying, and warming the air you breathe. Found in three different sections of your nose, nasal turbinates sometimes become enlarged, inflamed, or displaced. If this happens, it’s time to explore your treatment options.

What Affects Nasal Turbinates?

Turbinates in nostrils sometimes become temporarily inflamed or enlarged due to changes in the weather, the common cold, or an uptick in seasonal allergy symptoms. Additionally, stress, hormonal changes, and reactions to certain medications may contribute to issues with these nasal structures.

A deviated nasal septum sometimes affects turbinates. Some people also experience problems because of turbinate disorders, which may include:

  • Air pockets in the middle part of the nasal cavity (concha bullosa)
  • Nasal valve collapse
  • Nasal passage blockage that was present at birth (choanal atresia)
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How is a Turbinate Problem Diagnosed?

The nasal passages can be viewed with a handheld tool with an attached light or with a procedure known as a diagnostic nasal endoscopy. This process involves the use of a lighted hollow tube attached to a camera that allows nasal passages to be viewed in greater detail. Because there could be other sources of restricted nasal airflow, image tests may be performed to determine if there may be an obstruction or issues with your sinus cavities.

What Are Treatment Options?

Problems with nasal turbinates sometimes go away on their own. This is more likely to happen if these structures are only temporarily enlarged or irritated. For instance, if you have an especially severe cold, you’ll likely be able to properly breathe through your nose again once your cold has run its course. If allergies are contributing to turbinate issues, you may be advised to better manage your allergy symptoms or consider allergy shots (immunotherapy) to naturally reduce your immune system’s response to certain allergy triggers.

Should the size of your nasal turbinates need to be reduced, the procedure performed to accomplish this goal is called turbinate reduction. One way to reduce the size of turbinates is with the use of a needle-like device that generates heat or energy waves to target the affected nasal structures. A local anesthetic is used to improve your comfort during this approach to turbinate reduction.

If you have severely enlarged or displaced nasal turbinates, surgery may be performed to correct or remove the affected turbinates. In some instances, part of the bone tissue beneath the turbinates may need to be removed. If you also have a deviated septum that needs to be corrected to improve airflow, turbinates are typically removed surgically when a septoplasty is performed to straighten the bone and cartilage that divides your nose.

If nasal turbinates that are chronically enlarged or irritated aren’t treated, you may find yourself dealing with increasingly disruptive breathing difficulties. Over time, issues with turbinates could contribute to sleep apnea and even dental problems if you begin to breathe through your mouth to compensate for an airflow blockage. The good news is most issues with nasal turbinates are treatable or correctable, so contact UCI’s Sinus Surgery Center today.