Inferior Turbinate Hypertrophy

Turbinates are bony structures inside your nose covered by mucous membranes. The turbinates are essential to respiration. Their main role is to filter, warm and humidify the air that is inhaled through the nose.

There are three pairs of turbinates:
  • Inferior turbinates
  • Middle turbinates
  • Superior turbinates

Chronic nasal obstruction, or a stuffy nose, is often caused by enlargement (hypertrophy) of the inferior turbinate. Congested nasal obstruction can impair normal breathing, forcing patients to breathe through the mouth and often affects their daily activities. Enlarged turbinates and nasal obstruction can also contribute to headaches and sleep disorders such as snoring and obstructive sleep apnea, as the nasal airway is the normal breathing route during sleep.

Causes of hypertrophied turbinates

The mucous membrane that covers the turbinates can shrink or swell in response to changes in blood flow. Common causes may be:

  • Allergies
  • Sinusitis
  • Environment irritants (such as cigarette or cigar smoke)
  • Pregnancy or other hormonal changes
  • Aging process
  • Congenital variations

When the turbinates become enlarged, they block breathing and make you feel congested. The inferior turbinates, the largest pair, are often the source of breathing problems. When the inferior turbinates become enlarged it is referred to as inferior turbinate hypertrophy.

Special Considerations

Septal Deviations – In patients with a septal deviation is it not uncommon for both sides of the nose to be blocked. A common scenario would be that one side of the nose is blocked from the deviated septum and on the other from inferior turbinate hypertrophy.

AllergiesAllergies can cause swelling, often leading to turbinate hypertrophy.

Colds and Infections – Cold or infection may cause congestion due to enlarged turbinates. In most cases, the turbinates will return to their normal size after recovery. However, in some instances such as chronic sinusitis, the enlargement may be permanent.

Learn about medical treatments for inferior turbinate hypertrophy »

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