Turbinate Reduction


Turbinates are like natural "air filters" in the sense that these small structures found within your nostrils filter and warm the air you breathe.

They also regulate moisture within your nose, which can help minimize issues with nosebleeds and nasal dryness. But turbinates can become a problem if they are inflamed, enlarged, or displaced enough to create a blockage. If this is the case, you may benefit from a procedure known as turbinate reduction.

Why Consider Turbinate Reduction?

Nasal turbinates sometimes become inflamed occasionally. This is more likely to happen if you have issues with sinus infections or allergies. However, the resulting problems, which may include breathing difficulties, usually goes away with little or no intervention. This is more likely to happen if you develop turbinate issues due to weather changes, a reaction to certain medications, hormonal changes, stress, or similar temporary circumstances. But turbinate reduction may be worth considering if these structures are regularly affected by:

  • Chronic infections
  • Structural issues within your nose
  • Allergies that are especially severe or difficult to manage

It’s also common for turbinate reduction to be performed if you need nose surgery for a deviated septum. This is because realigning the nasal septum sometimes causes turbines to become compressed enough to cause breathing problems.

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How Is Minimally Invasive Reduction Performed?

If the turbinates aren’t significantly enlarged, minimally invasive techniques may be used to reduce their size. Procedures of this nature work by shrinking the turbinates without removing tissue or bone that’s below these structures. This is done with a needle-like device that generates heat to shrink tissue. This can be accomplished with a heat source (cauterization) or energy waves (radiofrequency ablation).

A similar method is controlled ablation (coblation). It’s a form of radiofrequency ablation that’s done at lower temperatures. Also, a saline solution is used to remove excess tissue in a way that’s gentler and more precise. Local anesthesia is usually injected into the nose to make the procedure more comfortable. The entire process normally takes about 10-15 minutes.

What Are Surgical Options?

With larger turbinates, surgical turbinate reduction may be the better option. This type of reduction is usually done under general anesthesia. For this reason, you may be advised to not take NSAIDs like aspirin a few weeks prior to surgery to minimize bleeding risks. You may also be asked to stop taking blood-thinning medications you may be taking for other conditions for the same reason.

During surgical turbinate reduction, the enlarged turbinates are cut away along with underlying bone tissue. Another surgical option involves the use of a handheld device to shave away excess tissue. This type of turbinate reduction surgery may be combined with a septoplasty (deviated septum correction) procedure at UCI’s Sinus Surgery Center.

It usually takes a few weeks for the scar tissue that develops in your nose after turbinate reduction to fully heal. Even though your nasal turbinates will be reduced in size, it can still be helpful to avoid known nasal or sinus irritants and be proactive about treating nasal congestion to keep your nasal airways as clear and unobstructed as possible.