The turbinates are usually the part of the nose that block the nose and cause congestion. They affect breathing more in more people than a deviated septum. They are normal parts of the nose on each side of the nose that have important functions. They warm the air as we breathe, humidify the air and filter out dust and dirt. They swell up with allergies or irritants such as smoke, dust, pollution or particulates and block the nose. The swelling is often very gradual over time and often unnoticed. When you have a cold, the turbinates are the ones that swell up and make you feel congested.
For turbinate swelling, medicines like Sudafed, Claritin, Flonase, or Benadyl usually stop the swelling. In our office, we have patients take of trials of medicines like these to see of the swelling clears up. If the turbinates respond to the medicines and the congestion clears up, then it is up to the patient to take the medicines to keep the turbinates under control. It is not always clear how long a person needs to take medicines to control the turbinates. Sometimes it is for a few days (a cold), a few weeks or months (an allergy season) or even longer than that.
Procedures to shrink the turbinates can restore them to a normal size and improve breathing dramatically. This is usually done in the office. This restores the normal breathing through the nose and eliminates the obstruction or congestion. This is usually permanent. Sometimes whatever caused the turbinates to swell up in the first place and cause them to swell up after the procedures, so making the occasional person need turbinates to be reduced more than once.