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Turbinate Hypertrophy

The turbinates are structures on the side wall of the inside of the nose. They project into the nasal passages as ridges of tissue. The inferior turbinates can block nasal airflow when they are enlarged. The pictures below demonstrate how the inferior turbinates can block airflow when they are enlarged and touch the nasal septum.

inferior turbinate

The turbinates are made of bone and soft tissue. Either the bone or the soft tissue can become enlarged. In most patients, enlargement of the soft tissue part of the turbinate is the major problem when the turbinates become swollen. When the turbinates are large, they are called hypertrophic turbinates.


The diagnosis of enlarged inferior turbinates can be made by your doctor with a thorough evaluation of your symptoms and nasal examination. Your doctor may perform a procedure in the office called a nasal endoscopy to diagnose the cause of your nasal obstruction. After making the diagnosis, your doctor can discuss treatment options for you. If the turbinates are swollen, your doctor may recommend medications for you. For many patients, medications can help reduce the size of the turbinates and can help improve their nasal obstruction. If you have troublesome symptoms even after using medications, you may be a candidate for surgery to shrink the size of your turbinates.

Turbinate Reduction

There are many ways to shrink the size of the turbinates. Surgery is typically called turbinate reduction or turbinate resection. In many instances, turbinate surgery is performed in conjunction with septoplasty. It is important that the turbinate not be removed completely because its removal can result in a very dry and crusty nose. In the absence of a turbinate, the air that is breathed may not be to adequately humidified and warmed.

You may hear of many different terms being used when it comes to surgery for the turbinates. Examples of these terms are cauterization, coblation, radiofrequency reduction, microdebrider resection, and partial resection. These all refer to different methods of reducing the size of the turbinates.Some methods rely on shrinking the turbinates without removing any of the turbinate bone or tissue. These methods include cauterization, coblation, and radiofrequency reduction. In each of these methods, a portion of the turbinate is heated up with a special device. Over time, scar tissue forms in the heated portion of turbinate, causing the turbinate to shrink in size.

If a portion of the turbinate is removed, a procedure called a submucosal resection is typically performed. This means that the lining of the turbinate is left intact, but the “stuffing” from the inside of the turbinate is removed. As the turbinate heals, it will be much smaller than before surgery. Sometimes, this resection can be performed with a device called a microdebrider. This device allows the surgeon to remove the “stuffing” through a small opening in the turbinate.

Although rare, turbinate tissue can re-grow after turbinate surgery and the procedure may need to be repeated. In more severe cases, a larger portion of the turbinate, such as the bony framework, can be removed if needed.

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