Turbinate Reduction, Because Breathing is Fun

Today at 3:00 I’ll be sitting in an exam room at the Stanford Sleep Clinic, essentially getting the inside of my nose cooked. Sounds awesome, doesn’t it?

It’s called radiofrequency turbinate reduction. My boyfriend got it done, also, as part of his general sleep apnea surgery four or five years ago (his surgery worked; sadly, I am not a candidate for that same surgery since I do not have the same structural cause).

But back to the procedure itself. To quote obstructednose.com:

All of these methods aim to shrink the underlying turbinate by applying heat to the surface lining of the turbinate and creating a lesion. A probe is inserted into the turbinate tissue between one and six times, while the needle is heated and the underlying tissue is shrunk.

That, my friends, is cooking. When you apply heat to flesh, causing that flesh to shrink, you are cooking. (And this makes me think of something a burn-ward nurse friend of mine said about the burn ward essentially smelling like cooked meat; it is very unsettling, she says. Which reminds me of another tangent from which I will refrain since I don’t completely want to gross people out.)

Here is the why: swollen nasal turbinates can contribute to sleep apnea. Very commonly, people with allergic rhinitis will have this kind of swelling. Here, a picture that kind of shows you what and where the turbinates are:


Nasal Turbinates


The air you breathe in through your nose has to go past the turbinates; their job is to clean that air. If they’re inflamed, though, they create blockage, and it’s a lot harder to get any air in past them. This is why nasal sprays like Afrin (oxymetazoline) are so popular. They’re vasoconstrictors. They constricts the blood vessels, which limits the blood flow, which minimizes the inflammation. Unfortunately, Afrin and its kin also cause rebound inflammation when they wear off, which makes you keep using them, which keeps causing rebound inflammation.

Since I’ve been having trouble with CPAP air pressure going too high at night, the ENT wants to reduce my nasal turbinates. I don’t actually have a lot of inflammation there, but I do have some. And I am constantly on antihistamines and anti-inflammatories to help me breathe.

Today’s procedure is supposed to be pretty minor. Local anesthetic only. I’m supposed to take it easy for the rest of the week, and not go back to work today. But I can go back to work tomorrow. Unlike getting the endoscopy for my celiac biopsy – for that one I was told that I wasn’t to make any important decisions whatsoever that day. And someone else had to do the driving.

We’ll see how this goes.



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