Turbinate reduction is a common procedure performed by ear, nose, and throat doctors. The procedure is meant to improve breathing through the nose. It can be done in the office with numbing medication or in the operating room. Turbinate reduction is frequently done in conjunction with a septoplasty.

The turbinates (more specifically inferior turbinates) are round structures located inside the nose on both sides. If you shine a flashlight into your nose in the mirror, you can probably see them. In many people, especially those with allergies, hay fever, chronic sinus infections, rhinitis, or other nasal problems, the turbinates can become quite large/swollen and cause nasal congestion.

Swelling in the turbinates can go up and down and move from side to side in the nose. Many people will notice one side of their nose becomes blocked and then several hours later, the blockage moves to the other side.

Many people with large obstructing turbinates can get a lot of improvement without surgery. A lot of people will improve a lot with just nasal saline (salt water) spray, which is available without a prescription. Over the counter antihistamine pills like Benadryl (diphenhydramine), Claritin (loratadine), and Zyrtec (cetirizine) can also help, though some can cause drowsiness. Prescription nasal steroid sprays like Flonase (fluticasone) and Nasonex (mometasone) among others are very helpful too.

Over the counter nasal decongestant sprays such as Afrin (oxymetazolone), Rhinall, and Neosynephrine (phenylephrine) typically will greatly improve nasal congestion but should never be taken more than 3-5 days in a row because they will start to make the problem worse after this time.

For people with large swollen turbinates who are not helped enough by the various medicines and sprays, turbinate reduction can provide excellent improvement in nasal breathing.

The actual procedure of turbinate reduction is usually done with an electric probe that burns the inside of the turbinates and causes them to shrink. The procedure in the office usually takes about 15 minutes, most of which is waiting for numbing medication to work. There is some discomfort associated with the numbing injections, but it is not too different from a dental procedure.

After the procedure, the main risk is nosebleed. There is usually not a lot of pain. Pain is usually controlled well with Tylenol or other over the counter medications. If a septoplasty is also done, stronger pain medication is usually needed. It is important to use nasal saline spray every 2-3 hours while awake to help with healing and prevent crusting.

Turbinate reduction usually works well. It is not a 100% permanent cure, though. The procedure clears more room inside the nose for breathing, but it does not eliminate allergies or other underlying causes of nasal congestion. Also, the turbinates can grow back over several years.

Overall, turbinate reduction is a safe and common procedure which is helpful for many sufferers of nasal congestion.

The above article is for educational purposes only and should not be considered as specific medical advice.