Ear, Nose, Throat, & Allergy

What is an inferior turbinate??

The inferior nasal turbinate is an important structure located in the nasal cavity. Often described as a “finger-like projection”, the inferior nasal turbinate extends from deep inside the nose towards the anterior (front) nasal cavity. It is one of three pairs of nasal turbinates that are orientated in “shelf-like” fashion within the nose. Functionally, the inferior nasal turbinates are responsible for directing air into the nasal cavity and cleaning/humidifying it. Sometimes the turbinates are large enough to cause difficulty with nasal breathing. This condition is called, “inferior turbinate hypertrophy”. Enlarged nasal turbinates can be caused by a variety of issues, including seasonal allergies, chronic sinusitis, or anatomical factors such as a deviated nasal septum. Common symptoms of inferior turbinate hypertrophy include nasal congestion, difficulty breathing through the nose, chronic sinus infections, and snoring at night. Diagnosis of the condition usually requires examination by an Ears, Nose, and Throat specialist (otolaryngologist). To further investigate, a quick and painless in-office procedure called a nasal endoscopy will likely be performed. This includes the physician guiding a thin, flexible endoscope into the nasal and sinus cavities to evaluate if nasal turbinates are enlarged. Often other abnormalities of the nose can also be identified, such as a nasal septal deviation, chronic sinus swelling, sinus cysts, or enlarged adenoids. Medications that reduce inflammation in the nose are often used to treat inferior turbinate hypertrophy. These include intranasal steroid sprays (Flonase, Rhinocort, Nasonex), sinus irrigations with steroids (Pulmicort/Budesonide), and periodic courses of oral steroids. Over the counter antihistamines such as Claritin or Zyrtec may also be helpful. If inferior turbinate hypertrophy does not improve with medical therapy, surgical procedures can be considered. One procedure, called the inferior turbinate reduction, is performed to reduce the size of the nasal turbinates. This can be performed in both the office and hospital operating room setting. If you or family members have concerns regarding hypertrophy of the nasal turbinates, please do not hesitate to contact Colden and Seymour Ear, Nose, Throat, and Allergy to set up an appointment. Opinions expressed here are those of Daryl Colden, MD, FACS, and Christopher Jayne, BA. These opinions are not a substitute for a medical evaluation performed by a medical provider.