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Nasal Turbinate Reduction Surgery Can Help with Breathing Problems & Migraines

The turbinates are structures inside the nose that are attached to the right and left walls of the nasal cavity. The primary function of the turbinates is to warm, humidify, and filter air as it passes through the nose on its way to the lungs. Sometimes the turbinates become enlarged, requiring surgery to reduce them to a normal size.

The facial plastic surgeons at University Hospitals have advanced expertise in performing nasal turbinate reduction surgery.

Nasal Turbinates and Migraines

Recent findings link nasal “contact points” with certain types of headaches such as migraines. Contact points occur when the turbinates come into contact with the wall that divides the nose into two chambers (the septum). Particularly when there is a sharp spur of the septum that contacts one or more turbinates, swelling of the turbinates can cause increased pressure against the spur and may cause a cascade of events that can result in a painful migraine headache.

Patient History and Examination

When symptoms such as difficulty breathing through the nose or headaches are present, the physician will examine the inside of the nose with a bright light and an instrument called a speculum, which gently opens the nostrils so the doctor can see inside. Sometimes, a flexible telescope is used to look deeper into the nasal cavity and better see the turbinates. A CT scan may also be ordered to better visualize the turbinates and their relationship to the sinuses.

If your physician sees enlarged or malpositioned turbinates during the examination, surgery may be recommended as a treatment option. The doctor may also about the following issues because they can be symptoms of enlarged or malpositioned turbinates:

  • Nasal congestion/obstruction
  • Drainage
  • Allergies
  • Trauma
  • Previous nasal surgery
  • Sinus problems
  • Headache

Ideal Candidates for Nasal Turbinate Reduction Surgery

The best candidates for turbinate reduction surgery are symptomatic men and women with functional or anatomically abnormal turbinates who are physically healthy and who have realistic expectations.

Performing Nasal Turbinate Surgery

Turbinate surgery is performed entirely through the nostrils (except when a rhinoplasty is done in combination with turbinate surgery). No bruising or external changes in the shape of the nose should occur. When combined with rhinoplasty, the external appearance of the nose will be altered, and swelling and bruising of the nose and face may be evident. Turbinate surgery may also be combined with sinus surgery and/or septoplasty.

Turbinate surgery is almost always done as an outpatient procedure, usually under general anesthesia.


Following turbinate surgery, and depending on exactly what was done and how much bleeding occurred, packing may or may not be used. Our surgeons are now using either tubes or a sponge-like material or dissolvable packing instead of the more traditional gauze. Patients may have some bloody drainage from the nose for up to a week. There is no bruising or swelling with this surgery, and often the patients can resume work within a few days to a week. Patients can resume strenuous activities in two to three weeks.

Make an Appointment

Schedule a consultation with a UH facial plastic surgeon.