Also referred to as the nasal conchae, nasal turbinates are spongy, narrow passageways in the nose that help keep nostrils moist.
Causes of Turbinate Hypertrophy
Turbinate hypertrophy can be acute (suddenly occurring) in nature. If the condition is chronic, symptoms may become increasingly noticeable over time. Turbinate hypertrophy itself isn’t genetic, although it occurs more frequently in individuals with a family history of allergic rhinitis (hay fever). Chronic sinus inflammation, regular exposure to certain environmental irritants, and seasonal allergies are additional factors that sometimes contribute to issues with nasal turbinates.
Signs and Symptoms
Difficulty breathing is the most common symptom associated with turbinate hypertrophy. Some people with the condition describe it as a feeling of having a cold that won’t go away. Insufficient nasal airflow may also cause sufferers to develop problems with snoring or have regular issues with dry mouth when first waking up from increased instances of mouth breathing. Symptoms experienced may also include:
- Changes in the ability to smell
- Chronic runny nose and other cold-like symptoms
- Facial discomfort and/or forehead pressure
- Persistent or recurring nasal congestion
Diagnosing Turbinate Hypertrophy
After an initial examination, a nasal endoscopy that’s performed with a lighted scope attached to a camera may be done to view the nasal passages in greater detail. Because symptoms of turbinate hypertrophy can be similar what’s experienced with a deviated septum, CT scans and other image tests are often performed to determine what’s causing nasal airways to narrow.
The first attempt at treating turbinate hypertrophy usually involves home remedies such as identifying and avoiding allergy triggers as much as possible and minimizing exposure to airborne irritants like secondhand cigarette smoke. Some patients see improvements by using HEPA filters or indoor air purifiers. Being proactive about mold and mildew prevention can also be helpful.
Over-the-counter allergy medications and oral decongestants also minimize symptoms for some patients. Nasal decongestants may reduce swelling in nasal airways. However, such medications shouldn’t be used on a long-term basis because of the risk of bleeding and developing a tolerance that minimizes effectiveness.
Surgery for Turbinate Hypertrophy
It’s only when symptoms are severe or conservative treatments that have been attempted for several months aren’t effective that surgery typically becomes an option for relief. The size of turbinates may be reduced by removing some bone tissue to create more space in nasal passageways with a procedure called an inferior turbinate bone resection. A partial inferior turbinectomy is a similar procedure that involves the removal of soft tissue, but not bone. With a submucosal diathermy, heat energy is used to shrink tissues in turbinates.
If turbinate hypertrophy isn’t properly diagnosed and treated by an ear, nose, and throat doctor, breathing problems and related symptoms could get worse. Some people with the condition also reach a point where they breathe through their mouth to compensate for narrow nasal passageways, which sometimes contributes to sleep apnea and other respiratory issues. Sinus infections and preexisting allergy symptoms may also become more disruptive to quality of life if turbinate hypertrophy isn’t treated.