There are three pairs of turbinates:
- inferior turbinates
- middle turbinates
- superior turbinates
Causes of hypertrophied turbinates
The mucous membrane that covers the turbinates can shrink or swell in response to changes in blood flow. Things that alter blood flow such as lying down, certain foods, allergies, medications, hormones, and infections can affect blood flow and therefore cause swelling of the turbinates.
When the turbinates become enlarged, they block breathing and make you feel congested. The inferior turbinates, the largest pair, are often the source of breathing problems. When the inferior turbinates become enlarged it is referred to as inferior turbinate hypertrophy.
Septal Deviations – In patients with a septal deviation is it not uncommon for both sides of the nose to be blocked. A common scenario would be that one side of the nose is blocked from the deviated septum and on the other from permanent inferior turbinate hypertrophy.
Allergies – Allergies can cause swelling, often leading to permentant turbinate hypertrophy.
Colds and Infections – Most of the time when you are congested due to a cold or infection the turbinates will enlarge and then return to their normal size. However, in some instances such as chronic sinusitis the turbinate hypertrophy may be permanent.
Diagnosis of turbinate hypertrophy can usually be made on your first visit. After taking your history and performing an exam we will use an endoscope, a small telescope with a light on one end and an eyepiece at the other, to examine the inside of your nose. A CT scan will also show inferior turbinate hypertrophy.
Nasal steroids, nasal antihistamines and decongestants can be used to treat inferior turbinate hypertrophy. These medications help to reduce the swelling and improve nasal breathing. If you do not repond to medications, it may be necessary to perform a simple surgery to reduce the size of your inferior turbinates.
Dr. Atkins usually uses a very fine radiofrequency wand or a small suction device or a laser to remove tissue inside the inferior turbinate. This improves the nasal airway, allowing patients to breathe easier. This surgery is occasionally performed by itself, but is often combined with a septoplasty to completely address nasal obstruction. Turbinate surgery used to involve resecting part of the turbinate. Dr. Atkins does not perform this aggressive form of turbinate surgery. For patients that need turbinate surgery alone the procedure can be done in the office.