The human body contains three pairs of turbinates – long, curled nasal bones that warm and humidify inhaled air, and regulate breathing through the nasal passages. The turbinates are classified as inferior, middle, and superior, and all are divided by the septum. When they become swollen and enlarged, they can interfere with breathing.
Treating Swollen Turbinates
The turbinates are crucial in allowing us to breathe properly. Allergies, viral infections, exposure to environmental irritants, and a deviated septum can cause them to swell. Inferior turbinates that swell to the point where they cause a nasal obstruction are known as hyperplastic turbinates.
Symptoms may be mild to severe. Minor cases may respond successfully to over-the-counter decongestants, but these bring temporary relief and should not be continued for more than three or four days, or they can cause symptoms to worsen. Topical nasal steroids and sprays may also be effective, and antibiotics are occasionally useful in treating congestion caused by sinusitis. But in many cases, medical treatment is ineffective; hyperplastic turbinates often require surgery.
Surgical Procedures for Hyperplastic Turbinates
A number of surgical procedures are effective in treating hyperplastic turbinates. These include:
- Turbinate Resection. Either total or partial, this procedure involves removing all or part of the inferior turbinate while widening the nasal airway. Submucous resection aims to preserve the mucosa of the turbinate in order to reduce side effects.
- Laser Surgery. Lasers focus a beam of light on the inferior turbinate to create lesions that allow for removal. This is a minimally invasive procedure with few complications or side effects. However, the mucosa may regenerate, and additional laser treatments may be needed.
- Cryosurgery. This procedure is similar to laser surgery, but relies on the application of extreme cold to destroy the turbinate through freezing. Its long-term effectiveness is not as good as resection surgery.
- Radiofrequency. A probe delivers heat generated from high frequency alternating current to destroy the turbinate.
- Corticosteroid Injection. A needle is used to inject corticosteroids directly into the inferior turbinate, often with great success.