Turbinates are structures within your nasal cavity that humidify and filter the air that you breathe through your nose. Allergies, enlarged adenoids and infection can cause the turbinates to become swollen, causing congestion and nasal obstructions. Turbinectomies are surgical procedures that remove the enlarged turbinates. Since the surgery is associated with significant and often irreversible side effects, depending on your specific condition, your surgeon may choose a procedure to shrink enlarged turbinates rather than a turbinectomy.
According to Columbia University’s Department of Otolaryngology, turbinectomies may be helpful in alleviating airway obstruction from a deviated nasal septum, polyps in nose, nasal tumor, swelling of the adenoids or enlargement of the turbinates. Turbinectomies are often also indicated for treating sleep apnea and snoring.
There are several techniques that may be used. However, according to Columbia University’s Department of Otolaryngology, using a microdebrider is among the most precise techniques for turbinectomy or turbinate reduction since it allows surgeons to shave soft tissue using minimal incisions (it is inserted using a tube) and enabling only the specific tissue to be removed with nearby tissues left intact. Other techniques include electrocautery and cauterization.
Long-term Side Effects
Removing too much nasal tissue can result in long-term and irreversible side effects. “Empty nose” syndrome is characterized by the perceived sensation of having an obstructed, congested nose even though the airway is clear. This occurs due to the removal of turbinates along with their mucosal lining, which contain air flow receptors. These receptors are responsible for communicating with your brain, letting it know that air is flowing through your nose; resulting in the sensation of obstruction. Other long-term effects include nasal dryness and crustiness since your nasal passages can no longer adequately moisten the air that you breathe.
Surgical complications of turbinectomies include scarring, dryness in your nasal passages, crusting of the nose and bleeding. According to ObstructedNose.com, approximately 10 percent of turbinectomy patients experience bleeding so severe that it requires hospitalization. Another potential side effect is the re-growth of turbinate tissue, requiring further surgery in the future.
Turbinate reductions are more commonly performed, which reduces the volume of your enlarged turbinates (instead of removing them entirely) while still allowing the structures to filter and moisten the air that you breathe. The goal of turbinate reduction is to preserve the normal functioning of the lining of your nose while correcting the obstruction to restore normal breathing.
Possible side effects of turbinate reduction include inflammation of your nasal lining (atrophic rhinitis), pain, bleeding, bad smell (malodor), excessive nasal dryness, crusting and tissue atrophy in the nose (a condition called ozena) and diminished sense of smell.