Feeling stuffy all the time is just a drag. Is it allergies? A cold? Or could it be something structural that needs to be addressed? Sometimes, that is exactly the case. Chronic nasal obstruction could be the result of what we call enlarged turbinates. The hypertrophy of this part of the nasal passage can make it so difficult to breathe that mouth-breathing is necessary or that daily activities must be curtailed. In addition to the immediate effect on breathing, enlarged turbinates may also contribute to sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea or chronic snoring. People with these problems may also experience chronic headaches.
What Are Turbinates?
Turbinates are located in each nostril. There are three of these structures, made of soft tissue and bone. The inferior turbinates, middle turbinates, and superior turbinates all sit near the septum, the tissue that separates the nostrils. The septum has a mucosal lining that helps to keep the air moist and warm as it travels through the nose and nasal passages. The turbinates also facilitate this. Because of their position, enlargement of any of the turbinates can obstruct optimal breathing.
Turbinates may become enlarged from inflammation. Sometimes, this is related to seasonal allergies but not always. Enlargement may result from contact with an environmental irritant, such as smoke. The turbinates may swell frequently if a person suffers from chronic sinusitis. Aging may contribute to the enlargement of this area of the nose, as may hormonal changes or pregnancy. In any case, a board-certified ear, nose, and throat doctor can offer assistance that helps restore healthy breathing.
At the St. Louis Sinus Center, patients struggling to know why they are always stuffy often get answers during their very first visit. This is achieved through a thorough consultation and discussion of symptoms, a careful ENT examination, and, as needed, a nasal endoscopy (don’t worry, it’s not painful). If further diagnostic data is needed, a MiniCat CT scan may be performed.
Treatment for enlarged turbinates can vary based on several factors. Even though enlargement may not fully resolve on its own, it may be possible to manage symptoms by using a vaporizer or humidifier, avoiding smoking and secondhand smoke, and using over-the-counter medications or nasal sprays as directed. The overuse of nasal sprays or medications can worsen the problem. Used as directed, medications can temporarily reduce swelling. For more long-term relief, a doctor may recommend reducing the turbinates through a painless office procedure.