Unfortunately, the size of the inferior turbinates can be too much to allow normal airflow through the nose. People cannot breathe properly when exercising, sleeping or even at rest. This is particularly noticeable for people who also have a deviated septum.
Turbinates are also the tissue that shrinks when we use topical decongestants, such as Afrin or NeoSynephrine, or an oral decongestant, such as Sudafed. Overuse of topical decongestants results in even more swelling of the turbinates after the medication has worn off.
The most common cause of turbinate hypertrophy is the inflammation associated with seasonal and environmental allergies (link). Other causes include chronic sinusitis, second-hand smoke and chemical irritants.
Medical treatment options :
- Oral decongestant (link) requires taking a pill once or twice a day, causes insomnia in some people, anxiousness in others and must be avoided by people with high blood pressure, heart or kidney disease.
- Hypertonic saline (very salty water) irrigation or spray is an even safer, but somewhat more time-consuming and short-acting treatment. (link)
- For people with allergies, an antihistamine (link) can be effective in restoring normal breathing. All of these medicines may bring on sleepiness and cannot be combined with alcohol. Caution needs to be used if driving.
- Topical nasal steroid sprays (link) are a safer way to shrink the nasal membranes, but has some occasional side effects, such as nasal bleeding or unpleasant taste.
- Avoid all topical nasal decongestants, such as Afrin or Neo-Synephrine. They will provide a dramatic improvement, but it is a temporary solution. It shrinks the nasal membranes, but has the unpleasant side effect of causing the membranes to become even larger and the nasal blockage worse. Also decongestants can make one feel jittery and should not be used by people with certain medical problems, such as high blood pressure, heart, thyroid or kidney disease.