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Have you been suffering from severe nasal congestion and obstruction that leaves you unable to breathe comfortably through your nose? A multitude of factors can be behind this kind of long-term obstruction, both allergic and physical. Physical causes of nasal obstruction include abnormalities of the septum and adenoids, but nasal obstruction can also be caused by problems within the turbines — a part of the nose that few lay people have ever even heard of.

What Are Turbines?

Nasal turbines are often described as "shelves", and are in fact very small bones. They are located at various points in the nose and have the purpose of heating the air that enters the nasal cavity before it moves on to your lungs. Additionally, these turbines are covered by a multitude of cilia, tiny "hairs" that filter out some of the toxins and bacteria that you encounter, and thus play a very important role in your overall wellbeing. Without turbines, you'd be prone to infections, vulnerable to environmental toxins, and in discomfort because you'd have a dry nasal wall. 

When the turbines become blocked or swollen due to a variety of reasons including allergies, however, they can make nasal breathing very difficult. In this case, turbine surgery is sometimes proposed if other treatment options failed to offer the desired results. Options that preserve your nasal structures to the largest possible extent are strongly preferred. 

Nasal Turbine Surgery

In a so-called turbinectomy, part or all of the nasal turbines are removed. This surgery can be carried out under general anesthesia or under local anesthesia in combination with sedation. A camera called an endoscope may be used to perform the surgery. 

A turbinoplasty may also involve the removal of some turbine tissue, but this surgery focuses instead on repositioning the turbines in other to alleviate your discomfort. This procedure, too, requires general anesthesia or local anesthesia and sedation. 

Nowadays, laser or radio frequency ablation (removal) of the turbines is becoming more common. This procedure only requires local anesthesia.

What To Expect From Turbinate Surgery

Regardless of the type of turbinate surgery you undergo, you may be able to go home either right after the procedure or within 24 hours. Surgery and anesthesia always carry the same risks, including excessive bleeding and infection, but risks particular to turbinate surgery include nasal scarring, a damaged septum (the bit that divides your nostrils), loss of sensation within the nasal skin, an altered sense of smell and even fluid build-up in the nose. There is also the risk that your turbinate surgery will not deliver the results you were hoping for. 

Ablation is a procedure that is easier to recover from, however, though you will almost certainly be able to breathe through your nose more easily right after, you may need to have a repeat procedure after two years. Turbinectomy and turbinoplasty are more likely to result in permanent relief. 

The recovery period itself will take as long as two months, though you will be able to return to work within a few days to a week and the swelling will reduce significantly within that same time frame, after which you should start noticing an improvement in your breathing.

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