Turbinate Reduction

Turbinate reduction improves airflow in people with chronic nasal obstruction. Your surgeon reduces the size of your turbinates (small, bony structures inside of your nose) by removing excess tissue. Turbinate reduction is usually recommended if nonsurgical treatments don’t solve the issue.


What is turbinate reduction?

Turbinate reduction is a surgical procedure performed by ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialists to improve airflow in people with chronic nasal congestion. This procedure is also called nasal turbinate reduction and inferior turbinate reduction. (It’s called bilateral turbinate reduction when surgery is performed on both sides of your nose.)


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Why is turbinate reduction done?

Turbinate reduction surgery removes excess tissue around your turbinate bones so you can breathe easier. Turbinates are tiny structures inside of your nose. They cleanse, heat and humidify air as it passes through your nasal cavity and into your lungs.

Your turbinates can become inflamed and swollen as a result of irritation, allergies or infection. Most of the time, this inflammation is temporary. But some people can develop chronic swelling of their turbinates (hypertrophy).

How common is turbinate reduction surgery?

Turbinate reduction is a common surgical procedure. It may be performed alone or in combination with other treatments, such as septoplasty (to correct a deviated septum) or rhinoplasty (to reshape the nose or correct breathing problems).


How successful is turbinate reduction?

The overall success rate for turbinate reduction is about 82%. While it’s possible for the tissue around your turbinates to grow back eventually, many people find the results of turbinate reduction satisfactory.

Procedure Details

How do I know if I need turbinate reduction surgery?

To find out if you need turbinate reduction, your healthcare provider will perform a physical examination. To confirm your diagnosis, they may use nasal endoscopy to examine the inside of your nose.

Your healthcare provider will recommend steroid nasal sprays and/or antihistamines as a first line of treatment. However, if these treatments aren’t successful, then turbinate reduction may be necessary. Turbinate reduction surgery is usually indicated when nasal obstruction leads to congestion, post-nasal drip, sleep apnea or other breathing disorders.


What happens during turbinate reduction surgery?

Turbinate reduction surgery can be performed as a same-day procedure — either in a hospital, ambulatory surgical center or an outpatient clinic. In most cases, the procedure is performed under general anesthesia, though some people may only need local anesthesia.

During turbinate reduction surgery, your surgeon carefully shrinks your turbinate tissue. This can be done using one of several techniques, including:

  • Cauterization. A heated probe is placed inside of your nose to close off some of the blood vessels in your turbinates. This results in reduced blood flow, which shrinks your turbinate tissues.
  • Radiofrequency turbinate reduction. Using radiofrequency ablation, a long, thin probe delivers heat energy to your inflamed turbinates, forming scar tissue. As a result, your turbinate tissues shrink.
  • Coblation. The term “coblation” means “controlled ablation.” Like radiofrequency reduction, coblation uses heat energy to shrink your turbinate tissues. However, this method uses a lower temperature to keep surrounding tissues intact.
  • Microdebrider submucosal resection. During this procedure, your surgeon creates a small opening in your turbinate. They remove tissue through that opening, but leave the outer lining in place. As you heal, your turbinates shrink.
  • Partial resection. This procedure involves removing a small piece of your turbinate. Unlike the methods outlined above, partial resection removes both soft and hard tissue.

How painful is turbinate reduction?

People who have turbinate reduction may experience discomfort for a few days, but it’s usually minimal. If your turbinate reduction was performed in combination with other procedures, you might have more discomfort. To ease your symptoms, take all medications exactly as prescribed by your healthcare provider.

What happens after turbinate reduction?

After your turbinate reduction surgery, your healthcare provider will give you a list of detailed postoperative instructions. These guidelines will help you stay comfortable during the healing process.

Crusting will likely develop on your nose. This is from nasal discharge that occurs while your turbinates heal. Crusting may last up to three weeks. To relieve your symptoms, you can use saline nasal spray or a cool mist humidifier. Or you can apply petroleum jelly around your nose.

Risks / Benefits

What are the pros and cons of turbinate reduction surgery?

As with any surgical procedure, there are pros and cons of turbinate reduction surgery:

Pros of turbinate reduction surgery

Turbinate reduction surgery:

  • Is an outpatient procedure.
  • Opens your nasal airway and improves breathing.
  • Reduces snoring.
  • Treats severe nasal allergies.

Cons of turbinate reduction surgery

Turbinate reduction surgery may result in:

  • Empty nose syndrome (a very rare condition in which you can’t feel the air that moves through your nasal passages).
  • Chronic nasal dryness.
  • Nosebleeds.

Talk to your healthcare provider about the risks and complications of turbinate reduction. They can help determine whether the procedure is right for you.

Recovery and Outlook

How long does it take to recover from turbinate reduction?

You’ll be able to return to work, school and other normal routines in one day if you have the in-office procedure, and in one week if you have the procedure under general anesthesia. Complete turbinate reduction recovery can take up to six weeks. During this time, your healthcare provider will monitor your healing to make sure you’re on track.

When To Call the Doctor

When should I call my healthcare provider?

If you’ve already had turbinate reduction surgery, be sure to call your healthcare provider if you develop complications. Signs to look for include fever, bleeding, severe pain and difficulty breathing.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Chronic nasal congestion can seriously interfere with breathing and your overall quality of life. If nonsurgical treatments don’t correct the problem, then your healthcare provider might recommend turbinate reduction. Just like any procedure, there are pros and cons. Be sure to discuss all possible treatment options with your healthcare provider. They can tell you whether turbinate reduction surgery is right for you.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 04/19/2022.

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