Turbinate Reduction or Nasal Cycle?

I have a trouble breathing that switches nostrils periodically. There is a significant difference between each nostril, almost being unable to breathe out of either nostril. I have read that Turbinate Reduction is a surgery done to correct this, although I've read that this is also normal, being called a Nasal Cycle. My question is how do you know if you need the Turbinate Reduction surgery, or if it is just a normal Nasal Cycle?

Doctor Answers 4

Big turbinates

The nasal cycle is a normal phenomenon that your body uses to warm and humidify the air that you breathe.  The blood vessels in the inferior turbinates cyclically dilate and contract to increase the size of one, and then the other.  Like many other situations, sometimes too much of a good thing can become a problem.  

When you find that problems with nasal breathing are interfering with your sleep, ability to exercise, or your life in general, you may wish to see a board certified Otolaryngologist (ear nose and throat specialist).  They may find problems with the nasal septum, inferior turbinates, nasal polyps, or problems with the lining of the nose.

Turbinate surgery is minimally invasive, can be done in the office with just numbing medicine, and you are correct there is little to no downtime.  There is little risk, and little postoperative pain.  Most of the time it will provide at least a partial improvement in nasal breathing, and if the improvement is not complete, other more invasive procedures can still be done.  It is a great first step to finally breathing though your nose!!

Dubuque Facial Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 3 reviews

Its normal to have slight alternating nasal blockage

We all experience varying degrees of nasal blockage which tends to fluctuate from side to side. Usually nothing needs to be done about this.

However, If the blockage persists and becomes a problem, it can be improved. Turbinate reduction is a simple procedure that can often be done without any "downtime".   

Your ear nose throat specialist (otolaryngologist) will be able to provide you with more information. 

Christopher J. Peers, MD
South Bend Facial Plastic Surgeon
4.5 out of 5 stars 7 reviews

Nasal cycle of turbinate overgrowth

The best way to determine if you would benefit from turbinate reduction surgery is to have your nose examined by an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, throat surgeon) or facial plastic surgeon.

There can be a few possible reasons your having trouble breathing. It is normal to have nasal cycling that you describe, but most people aren't aware of it since they have enough leeway inside their nose to allow for adequate airflow even when that side of the nose is congested.

A deviated nasal septum, turbinate overgrowth, nasal polyps and nasal valve collapse are a few basic causes of nasal congestion. An experienced nasal surgeon should be able to assess your nose and help you pin down what is going on in your case.

You can learn more about turbinate reduction surgery at my web reference link below.

Thomas A. Lamperti, MD
Seattle Facial Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 17 reviews

Turbinate reduction or nasal cycle

Glenwell, 70-80% of people have nasal cycle, an alternating nasal congestion every 6-8 hours that maintains a relatively constant degree of nasal resistance.  It is from increasing blood flow through the congested nostril so that there is tissue engorgement particularly involving the inferior turbinates and erectile tissue on the upper septum.  Most people aren't aware of it because there is enough space on each side that the tissue swelling doesn't impact the airway.  Those individuals who notice it have some constriction of the nasal airway either from large turbinates or a deviated septum.  One way to know if turbinate reduction is helpful would be to use Afrin.  If there is significant improvement in both nostrils  then reversible tissue swelling is usually the cause and turbinate reduction would be expected to significantly improve the airway.  If the Afrin doesn't help much then either there is significant enlargement of the bony turbinate supports, there are nasal polyps, the nasal valve is constricted, the septum is bilaterally deviated, and/or the turbinate tissue is fibrotic.   It is very helpful to have someone examine the nose and see it before and after decongestion  to accurately determine the cause of your symptoms.  Dr. Mark Loury

Mark Loury, MD, FACS
Fort Collins Facial Plastic Surgeon
4.5 out of 5 stars 12 reviews

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.