What are turbinates?
Turbinates (also known as conchae) sit on the sides of your nasal passageways. They are the natural radiators of the nose. They are bony structures, covered in a lining that can swell and shrink depending on the environment. Their main job is to moisten and warm the air as it comes into your nose and they are very efficient at it. Even if the air is -10 degrees it will be 98 degrees by the time it reaches the back of the nose.
There are three pairs of turbinates in your nose. They are on either side of your septum (the structure that divides your nose in half).
Superior Turbinates: These sit highest in your nose, near your brain. Their job is to protect the olfactory bulb, the part of your brain that interprets smell.
Middle Turbinates: These sit in the middle, between the superior and inferior turbinates. Their main goal is to keep the air you inhale from going directly into your sinuses.
Inferior Turbinates: These conchae sit lowest in your nose. Their job is to moisturize and warm up the air you inhale before it travels into your lungs. They’re like the warm air humidifier of the nose.
What is a concha bullosa?
A concha bullosa is an air filled pocket within the middle turbinates. This is also referred to as pneumatization of the turbinate or enlarged turbinates. The presence of a concha bullosa is often associated with nasal obstruction.
If they are too big, either from allergies or from genetics, they will block the air coming into your nose making it difficult to breathe.
What are the symptoms of enlarged turbinates?
- Feeling like you can’t breathe in enough air through your nose
- Alternating nasal obstruction from one side to the other
- Pressure or pain around your sinuses
- Pressure or pain around your eyes
- Repeat sinus infections (also known as sinusitis)
- Clogged feeling in your nostrils
How do you diagnose a concha bullosa?
The only way to properly diagnose a concha bullosa is with a proper exam and CT scan. The scan allows us to see cross sections of your nose and turbinates. Air filled pockets will show up as black spots on a CT scan as seen below.
What is a turbinate reduction?
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What can happen if a concha bullosa goes untreated?
If you are not experiencing any symptoms, you may not need treatment for your concha bullosa. Some people have them their entire lives without knowing it.
However, if you are experiencing headaches, sinus drainage, stuffiness, pain or pressure its time for treatment. Untreated concha bullosa can lead to repeat sinus infections. Other complications include symptoms like headaches, sinus drainage, stuffiness, sore throat from post nasal drip and sinus pain and pressure.
Chronic sinus infections or chronic sinusitis may develop. Over time severe complications can cause bacterial infections, loss of sense of smell or vision.