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What is a turbinate and why should you care?

Sniff in through your nose. If you are fortunate enough to breathe well through both sides of your nose, feel free to move on to the next post! If not, read on!

These structures are turbinates.

Turbinates are like radiators for your nose. They are located along the sidewalls of your nose and they filter, humidify, and warm the air before it goes to your lungs.

In the picture above we have indicated the inferior turbinate. This structure runs the length of the floor of your nose and is the most important one for feeling congested.

Do you see how one is much larger than the other? This is because of swelling in the soft tissue (the gray bit). It is common for the swelling to alternate from side to side. When the turbinates are swollen, they obstruct the air flow through your nose and you can’t breathe!

We improve swelling of the turbinates in a few ways. Medicines, like decongestants, can help to limit the swelling. Prescription sprays like Flonase can help decrease the swelling by limiting the amount of allergic inflammation in the tissue.

If these measures are not enough to help a person breathe better, surgery may be necessary to decrease the size of the turbinates. Frequently we will also push the turbinates to the sides. By physically moving the turbinate out of the way and reducing the amount of tissue that can swell, we can improve nasal congestion. Removing the turbinates entirely is generally not a good idea as it can lead to uncomfortable crusting or even a paradoxical feeling of nasal obstruction!

If you’re considering nasal surgery, be sure to discuss functional breathing problems with your surgeon. Combining rhinoplasty with turbinate surgery can be a powerful way to help the nose look and work at its best.

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