The turbinates are long, curled nasal structures that resemble sausages. They are made up of bone lined with thick tissue and covered by a mucus membrane, and protrude from the side of the nasal cavity. There are three pairs of turbinates: inferior, middle and superior. They are all divided by the septum.
The turbinates are important in allowing us to breathe. Swelling and inflammation can lead to an obstruction in the nasal cavity known as hyperplastic turbinates. A number of factors can cause this including allergies, viral infections, exposure to environmental irritants, and deviated septum. They all lead to varying degrees of breathing difficulty.
Mild cases can be treated with over-the-counter decongestants, but relief is temporary and treatment should be discontinued after a few days or symptoms may worsen. Nasal steroids, sprays, and antibiotics can all be useful in breaking opening the nasal passages to relieve congestion, but many times the best – and most effective – treatment for hyperplastic turbinates is surgery.
Hyperplastic turbinates are often treated most effectively with surgery. A number of different procedures may be considered, including:
- Turbinate Resection. All – or a portion – of the inferior turbinate is removed in order to widen the nasal airway. A submucous resection is done to preserve the turbinate’s mucosa lining and reduce side effects.
- Laser Surgery. The inferior turbinate undergoes laser treatment to create lesions that enable easy removal. This procedure is minimally invasive and has few complications; however, the mucosa may regenerate, prompting the need for additional laser treatments.
- Cryosurgery. Similar to laser surgery, but the turbinate is frozen rather than subjected to lasers. Overall, this procedure is not as effective as resection surgery.
- Radiofrequency. High-frequency alternating current is delivered via a probe to destroy the turbinate.
- Corticosteroid Injection. Corticosteroids are injected directly into the inferior turbinate with a needle.