A turbinectomy is a surgical procedure that removes some or all of your turbinates.
Turbinates (also called conchae) are small bony structures that occur inside the nose. There are a total of three to four of these structures in the human nasal chamber. They clean, warm, and humidify air as it travels through your nostrils on the way to your lungs.
Your doctor might recommend a turbinectomy to
- alleviate chronic nasal congestion
- correct a deviated septum (with a septoplasty)
- minimize snoring
- address sleep apnea
- adjust airflow to reduce nosebleeds
Typically, turbinate surgery is performed through both nostrils in an operating room. You’ll be under general anesthesia during surgery. To complete this procedure, your surgeon might use a variety of tools and techniques including:
- an endoscope, which is a thin, flexible tube with a light and camera on the end
- a microdebrider, which is a rotary cutting tool to shave bone and other tissues
- cauterization, which involves burning to remove or close off tissue
- radio frequency, which uses a high-frequency electrical current to heat and destroy tissue
During the procedure, turbinates may be reduced (turbinate reduction) or removed (turbinectomy). Depending on your situation and your desired outcome, your doctor might also recommend having other procedures — such as septoplasty (surgery to correct a deviated septum) or sinus surgery — done at the same time.
A turbinectomy usually takes up to two hours, and you can go home a few hours after surgery. The surgery and recovery can be longer based on the severity of your condition and whether you’re having other procedures done at the same time.
Following the surgery, you may experience:
- swelling of the nose, as well as around your eyes, cheeks, or upper lip
- discomfort or soreness
- a “stuffed-up” feeling, like you have a bad head cold
- numbness in the nose tip, gums, or upper lip
- bruising around your nose and eyes
To ease these symptoms, your doctor might:
- prescribe pain medication, such as the combination drugs hydrocodone bitartrate/acetaminophen (Lortab) and oxycodone/acetaminophen (Percocet)
- recommend a saline nasal spray
- suggest putting petroleum jelly, such as Vaseline, around your nostrils
- recommend using a cool mist humidifier
Your doctor might also recommend that you avoid:
- strenuous exercise
- hard chewing
- talking too much
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin (Bufferin), naproxen (Aleve), and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB)
Most people return to work or school in about a week and get back to their normal routine in about three weeks.
Call your doctor if you experience these symptoms:
- You have bleeding that doesn’t slow.
- You see signs of infection such as fever, increased redness, pain, warmth, or draining pus.
- You experience new or worsening pain.
Ask a loved one to call 911 for the following:
- You have severe difficulty breathing.
- You have sudden chest pain and shortness of breath.
- You lose consciousness.
- You cough up blood.
Whether it’s to relieve alleviate chronic nasal congestion or help you deal with sleep apnea, a turbinectomy or turbinate reduction might be the answer you are looking for.
Talk about your conditions with your doctor. If you’ve exhausted more conservative approaches — such as allergy testing and nasal steroids — they might agree that it’s the best possible course of action.
If surgery is the best option for you, prepare to be out of work or school for about a week. You should be back to your normal routine in about three weeks.