Turbinate Hypertrophy and Treatment

Turbinates are bony structures covered with soft tissue on the sides of the inner nose that regulate airflow and protect the inner nasal anatomy. The major function of the turbinates is to control airflow. From the bottom to the top of the nose, there are three (sometimes four) levels of turbinate structures: the inferior, middle, superior and the supreme turbinate that is not present in every person.

The inferior turbinate plays the largest part in directing airflow, but it also moistens, heats, and filters the air coming into the respiratory system. The middle turbinate primarily protects the sinuses and the olfactory bulb, which houses your smell receptors. The superior turbinate protects the sphenoid sinus on each side.


What Can Go Wrong With The Turbinates?

The primary issue people experience with their turbinates is turbinate hypertrophy (enlarged turbinates). Enlarged turbinates can be caused by allergies, chronic sinus inflammation, or environmental irritants. Turbinate hypertrophy can be situational or chronic. A common type of situational turbinate hypertrophy is the nasal cycle, in which the turbinates on one side of the nose will swell for four to six hours before returning to their normal size, at which point the turbinates on the other side will begin to swell.

Concha bullosa is a condition unique to the middle turbinates where the middle turbinate is filled with air and enlarged like a balloon. When this happens, the concha bullosa can block the flow of air to the maxillary sinus via a small passageway called the sinus ostium. If the sinus ostium is blocked and air does not reach the maxillary sinuses, they can accumulate fluid and become infected.


What Are The Symptoms Of Turbinate Hypertrophy?

The most common symptoms of septal deviations and turbinate hypertrophy are:

  • Congested or blocked nasal breathing
  • Breathing trouble at night and snoring
  • Chronic nosebleeds and chronic sinus infections


What Are The Risk Factors Of Turbinate Hypertrophy?

Some risk factors of turbinate hypertrophy include:

  • Recurrent sinusitis
  • Nasal trauma
  • Nasal surgery
  • Pet
  • Poor air quality
  • Family history of nasal polyposis


How Are Turbinate Hypertrophy And A Deviated Nasal Septum Related?

A patient with a deviated nasal septum is more likely to have both turbinate hypertrophy and concha bullosa. Septal deviation causes turbinate hypertrophy because the structures within the nose tend to grow so that they fill open areas. If your septum is deviated to the left, that creates space for the right middle and inferior turbinate to grow larger.


How Should I Treat My Enlarged Turbinates?

Treatment options vary depending on the cause of your enlarged turbinates. Make sure you are certain of the cause before you begin treatment. If your enlarged turbinates are a result of allergies or environmental irritants, you can allergy-proof your home by following simple precautions to get rid of pollen, dust, and pet dander. Medications like nasal steroids should be tried but need to be continued and have varying efficacy. The best long-term treatment for chronically enlarged turbinates – especially if caused by a deviated septum, is turbinate reduction surgery. Turbinate reduction surgery is often performed at the same time as a septoplasty. Consult a board-certified ENT to determine the best course of treatment for you.

Meet Dr. Moustafa Mourad, MD, FACS

Moustafa Mourad, MD, FACS is board-certified in head and neck surgery and highly trained in cosmetic plastic surgery and facial reconstruction. Dr. Mourad is also a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons. He treats many conditions, both cosmetic and complex, that affect the head, neck and entire facial area. Learn More »

Select Relevant Publications

Peleman, J. R., Chung, M. T., Johnson, J., Rayess, H., Priest, C. R., Hojjat, H., Mourad, M., Carron, M. A., & Vasconez, H. C. (2020). Surgical Adjuncts to Rhinoplasty: An Algorithmic Approach. Aesthetic plastic surgery, 10.1007/s00266-020-01744-9. Link to Article.

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