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.
Causes of Swollen Turbinates
The turbinates are crucial in allowing us to breathe properly. When they swell to the point where they cause a nasal obstruction, they are known as hyperplastic turbinates. This can be caused by:
- Viral infections
- Exposure to environmental irritants
- Deviated septum
Symptoms of Swollen Turbinates
Symptoms may be mild to severe and include:
- Altered sense of smell
- Dry mouth
- Forehead pressure
- Mild facial pain
- Nasal congestion
- Runny nose
Treating Swollen Turbinates
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.
A number of surgical procedures are effective in treating swollen 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.
Call Dr. Stolovitzky at (404) 921-5474 for more information or to schedule an appointment.