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What is a Turbinectomy?

A turbinectomy is a surgical procedure performed to reduce the size of the turbinates inside the nose without impairing their natural function.

Turbinates are soft-tissue-covered bony structures within the nasal passageways on each side of your nose. The turbinates function as natural air filters to trap irritants such as dust or pollen from the air you breathe. They are also responsible for warming and humidifying inhaled air. The nasal passageways have 3 pairs of turbinates: inferior, middle, and superior. Of the 3, the inferior turbinate is the lowest and is the first to come in contact with inhaled air.

Indications for Turbinectomy

In some people the turbinates enlarge, leading to the narrowing of the nasal cavity. As a result, the free flow of air is obstructed, causing symptoms of congestion and strained breathing. If this becomes a persistent long-term problem and is unresponsive to medications, your doctor may recommend surgery. The inferior turbinate is usually addressed with the surgery, and is indicated for the following:

  • Inferior turbinate hypertrophy
  • Deviated nasal septum (separates left and right nostrils)
  • Chronic allergic rhinitis/sinusitis
  • Chronic nasal congestion
  • Sleep apnoea and other breathing-related issues
  • Adjusting airflow to reduce nosebleeds

Preparation for Turbinectomy

Pre-surgery preparation for turbinectomy may involve the following steps:

  • A review of your medical history and a physical examination is performed to check for any medical issues that need to be addressed prior to surgery.
  • Depending on your medical history, social history, and age, you may need to undergo tests such as blood work and imaging to help detect any abnormalities that could compromise the safety of the procedure.
  • You will be asked if you have allergies to medications, anesthesia, or latex.
  • You should inform your doctor of any medications or supplements that you are taking or any medical conditions you have such as lung or heart disease.
  • You may be asked to stop taking certain medications, such as blood thinners, anti-inflammatories, aspirin, or other supplements for a week or two.
  • You should not consume any solids or liquids at least 8 hours prior to the surgery.
  • You should arrange for someone to drive you home after the surgery.
  • A signed informed consent form will be obtained from you after the pros and cons of the surgery have been explained.

Procedure for Turbinectomy

Turbinectomy surgery is usually performed in an operating room under general or local anesthesia. The procedure is typically performed through the nostrils on both sides of the nose. During the procedure, your surgeon will reduce the size of your turbinates to provide improved nasal airflow. Your surgeon may employ a variety of tools and techniques to achieve this, including the following:

  • Cauterization: This involves burning to remove or close off tissue
  • Radiofrequency turbinate reduction (RFTR): Use of high-frequency electrical current to heat and destroy tissue
  • Microdebridement: Use of a rotating cutting tool to shave bone and other tissue
  • Endoscopy: Use of a thin, flexible tube with a light and camera on the end to provide visualization during surgery

Postoperative Care and Recovery

Following the surgery, you may experience pain, bleeding, swelling, discomfort, soreness, numbness, or bruising in and around your nose, eyes, cheeks, or upper lip. To relieve these symptoms, your surgeon may recommend saline nasal spray, a cool-mist humidifier, or petroleum jelly. You should avoid strenuous exercise, hard chewing, smiling, nose blowing, or unnecessary talking. Most patients return to school or work in about a week and return to their normal routine in about 3 weeks. A follow-up appointment will be scheduled to monitor your progress.

Risks and Complications

Turbinectomy is a relatively safe procedure; however, as with any minimally invasive procedure, the following risks and complications can occur:

  • Increased nasal discharge
  • Crusting in the nose
  • Atrophic rhinitis, if too much tissue is removed
  • Damage to your tear duct
  • Scar tissue connecting the turbinate to your septum
  • Empty nose syndrome
  • Infection
  • Adverse reactions to anesthesia

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