What are the Nasal Turbinates?

Turbinates are normal structures in the nasal passages. There is an inferior, middle, and superior turbinate on each side of the nose. The turbinates are highly vascular tissue, consisting of bone, spongy erectile tissue, and mucous membrane outer lining. The turbinates, along with the septum and nose, humidify, warm, and clean the air we breathe. These structures also contribute to smell. The inferior turbinate is a largest turbinate, and the primary contributor to nasal and allergy symptoms. This turbinate, about the size of your finger, runs the length of the nasal airway. The inferior turbinate can change size dramatically.

Lying down, temperature changes, infection, allergies, emotions, hormones, and dust all may increase the size of the turbinate. Large turbinates, also known as hypertrophied turbinates, contribute to nasal symptoms. In some patients, the nasal turbinate remains persistently enlarged, obstructs the airway, and causes a congested feeling. The turbinate will usually shrink back to its normal size when the underlying problem is treated, such as allergy or infection.

However, sometimes the inferior turbinate will remain enlarged and swollen, even if the underlying problem is corrected. The most common symptoms from large turbinates are nasal congestion, nasal obstruction, difficulty breathing through the nose, and snoring. The symptoms may be worse on one side, or alternate sides. Symptoms may persist all day or primarily at night. Sinus drainage is inhibited in some patients, resulting in repeated sinus infections or post-nasal drip.

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