Turbinate Surgery

Turbinate surgery or turbinate reduction is a minimally invasive procedure performed by ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialists to reduce nasal obstructions. Doctors opt for turbinate surgery when alternative treatments, such as nasal steroids or antihistamines, fail.

Turbinates are boney structures in the inner side of the nasal cavity surrounded by vascular tissue and a mucous layer. They cleanse and help add moisture to the air as they enter through the nostrils. Prolonged allergies or colds can cause inflammation of the tissues, which may result in breathing difficulties in individuals. The surgery removes or shrinks extra tissue from the turbinates that helps clear the passageway. 

It helps alleviate the following conditions:

  • Deviated septum
  • Snoring
  • Severe allergic issues
  • Chronic swelling of the turbinates (hypertrophy)
  • Sleep apnea-related health issues

Alternate name 

Turbinectomy / Turbinoplasty / Radiofrequency ablation

Where are the turbinates located?

The turbinates are in the lateral walls of the nasal cavity. There are three pairs: superior, middle, and inferior.

How is turbinate surgery performed?

Turbinate surgery is a short-term procedure, and the patient can be discharged on the same day. The specialist usually uses general anaesthesia or local anaesthesia so that the patient does not experience any pain. If the patient's condition is less severe, doctors may opt for turbinate reduction instead of removing it. For instance, turbinoplasty uses the out fracture technique, where a surgeon places equipment inside the nostril to change the position of the turbinates. Another method is radiofrequency ablation, where narrow, flexible equipment is placed inside the nostril. Radiofrequency energy passes through this equipment, shrinking the tissue. In severe cases, doctors opt for turbinectomy. They use a narrow probe with a lighted camera at the tip that is inserted into the nostril. Next, they shave off the lower turbinate entirely or partially, using a microdebrider. 

How to prepare for the procedure?

Turbinate reduction/removal requires minimal preparation. 

Before the procedure, follow the instructions of the medical practitioners. You may require to stop eating at a specific time before the surgery starts. It is safe to inform the doctor whether you are pregnant or have any pre-existing medical condition that may interfere with the treatment outcome. Additionally, you may need blood work done. The doctor determines the need based on your medical history. You should also give a detailed chart of the medications you take. For instance, before such procedures, the doctors may advise you to refrain from taking blood thinners such as aspirins or ibuprofen as they may affect the blood clotting process. All the instructions are given to the patients beforehand. Make sure to follow through thoroughly.

Procedure type

Minimally invasive, surgical procedure.

Follow up

The surgery itself takes anywhere between thirty minutes to an hour. After the surgery, you are usually observed for a couple of hours. During this time, the doctors look for any reaction or complication that may arise. Following this, you are discharged. 

As the turbinates heal, you may experience mucous discharge that may result in crusting. Humidifiers or Vaseline help keep the insides of the nostrils moist. Apart from this, the doctor prescribes pain medications, as well as medicines for other side effects that may appear at a later time. The side effects of this procedure are mostly minor. They can be dizziness, nausea and vomiting, all of which can be managed effectively at home. 

However, you must visit the doctor in case the symptoms increase in severity, or you get a fever, have difficulty breathing, or experience heavy bleeding after getting discharged.

What are the risks involved in turbinate surgery?

As with all medical procedures, there are certain risks involved in turbinate surgeries. They are as follows:

  • In rare cases, you may develop empty nose syndrome, where you cannot feel the air passing through the nasal passage.
  • You may experience nosebleeds.
  • You may experience nasal dryness.

Before the surgery, the medical practitioners will discuss all the risks and only recommend the procedure if it is right for you. 


As already mentioned, you may go home on the day of the surgery if there are no post-surgical complications. The total healing period for this surgical procedure is around two months. The practitioners monitor the patient throughout their healing period. The patient may experience discomfort for the first two to three days after the surgery. The insides of the nostrils may remain swollen for some time, and the patient may continue to experience a nasal blockage. However, the swelling goes down to a large extent within a week. After the two-week mark, patients can resume normal activities. 

The overall success rate of the surgery is 82%. The prognosis of this procedure is satisfactory. For instance, most patients undergoing turbinoplasty with a microdebrider can go almost three years with no symptoms of nasal blockage. When surgically removed, the turbinates usually do not grow back. In the rare cases that they do, the patient may need to undergo a second round of surgery to reduce their size.

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