The turbinates (sometimes referred to as “skin folds”) are normal outgrowths from either side of the nasal cavity that humidify, warm, and regulate the flow of inspired air. The turbinates are made up of an outer mucosal lining that covers a thin bone that attaches to the outer nasal cavity wall. The superior (highest) turbinate has smell fibers on its surface. The middle turbinate acts a gatekeeper for the drainage pathways of the frontal, maxillary, and ethmoid sinuses.
The inferior turbinate is the largest and most influential on nasal congestion. Underneath its lining are multiple blood filled spaces that can engorge when inflamed, infected, or exposed to environmental irritants. When frequently inflamed over time, the underlying bone can change from thin bone to a much thicker obstructive bone. This condition is called inferior turbinate hypertrophy.
The diagnosis of inferior turbinate hypertrophy is based upon a thorough history and physical examination, which often includes a diagnostic nasal endoscopy. Symptoms include nasal blockage that can be on both sides of the nose and sometimes alternating. Post nasal drip, runny nose, and decreased sense of smell can also be caused by inferior turbinate hypertrophy.
Symptoms of inferior turbinate hypertrophy may be treated with topical nasal sprays including nasal steroid sprays to decrease the size of the surrounding tissue and make more space to accommodate airflow. In combination with topical antihistamine sprays, these methods can be very effective in decreasing the response of the turbinates to environmental allergens. However, if this is not effective, your physician may recommend a surgical procedure to decrease the size of the inferior turbinates called submucous resection of the inferior turbinates.