The turbinates are normal nasal structures that function like a natural air conditioner of the nose. By humidifying and warming the air, they prevent dust, pollution and cold air to reach the lungs. Similar to how a radiator warms the air by passing hot water through its pipes, the turbinates work by having many blood vessels filled with warm blood. These blood vessels or turbinate mucosa can swell, causing enlargement of the turbinates leading to nasal congestion.
Enlarged turbinates or turbinate hypertrophy can result from chronic allergy rhinitis, sinus infections, or upper respiratory infections. Turbinate surgery or turbinate reducing is indicated once all medical treatments have failed. This can be done either by removing a portion of the turbinates, or shrinking them with electro-cautery. Turbinate reduction can be done by itself in the office under local anesthesia. However it is usually done in the operating room with other procedures like septoplasty or sinus surgery.