Everybody has three pairs of turbinates: inferior, middle, and superior turbinates. The turbinates help to direct, warm, and humidify the air as we breathe it into our nasal cavity. It also generates mucous to trap any bacteria or dirt in the air we breathe in.
Individuals with non-allergic or allergic rhinitis or chronic sinusitis are found to have constantly enlarged inferior turbinates, which are the primary cause of severe nasal blockage. When that happens, your medical health provider might treat your nasal blockage with medications and nasal steroid sprays.
However, there are persistent cases that do not respond adequately to the treatment. Hence, you might be referred to an ENT surgeon or an Otorhinolaryngologist who might then recommend you to get a turbinectomy or an inferior turbinate reduction surgery.
What is turbinectomy?
There are several procedures to help reduce the size of the enlarged inferior turbinate. They range from minimally invasive techniques, such as collation ablation of the inferior turbinate, to ones that require surgery, such as a total turbinectomy. Regardless, the procedures are typically performed:
- To boost your nasal airflow should you suffer from nasal obstruction
- To allow the administration of nasal medication to treat allergic rhinitis
- To allow the use of Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) to treat obstructive sleep apnea.
Turbinectomy is in no way administered to treat the running nose or sneezing symptoms.
There are three types of turbinectomy that patients can go for.
1) Coblation or radiofrequency ablation of the inferior turbinate
This procedure involves the numbing of the inferior turbinate with both injection-based and topical anaesthetic agents. A probe then enters the inferior turbinate, inducing the shrinking of the inferior turbinate’s soft tissues. It is a rather straightforward procedure that takes less than 10 minutes. Patients can typically go home straight after the procedure. The reduction may take up to a month to take effect.
2) Microdebrider-assisted inferior turbinoplasty
The procedure can be performed by creating a tiny incision and a tiny tunnel to allow the use of a tiny microdebrider to shave off a part of the enlarged inferior turbinate.
The surgeon may also out-fracture the inferior turbinate to boost the nasal passage. This procedure takes about 15 to 20 minutes. However, the effect is much more immediate as compared to the previous procedure, but it also comes with a higher risk of bleeding. Patients can go home straight after the procedure.
3) Submucous resection or inferior turbinoplasty
This procedure involves an incision made at the front of the inferior turbinate region, creating a soft tissue flap. The surgeon will then remove the underlying bone, reattaching the flap back.
As compared to the first two procedures, the submucous resection removes more tissue. As such, the immediate boost in nasal smoothness is apparent. However, the chance of bleeding increases as well. Depending on whether the surgeon inserts absorbable or non-absorbable packing materials, the patients may either be discharged on the same day after observation or stay in the hospital for one to two days.
4) Partial or total inferior turbinectomy
The inferior turbinate is either removed partially or completely with a pair of surgical scissors. This is the most aggressive type of inferior turbinate reduction surgery. However, it is also the most effective treatment.
Patients have to be aware of the risk of developing a rare complication called empty nose syndrome, which refers to the patient feeling that their nose is still blocked even after the surgery. Patients will have to stay in the hospital for a day or two after surgery.
At the end of the day, no matter what turbinectomy procedure you choose, you should experience blocked nose relief.
It is vital that you avoid large groups of people for at least two weeks in order to avoid catching an unwanted cold, resulting in the possibility of an infection. Depending on the type of procedure you underwent, you can resume normal physical activity after two weeks or up to a month after the procedure.