Know your turbinates

If you’ve heard of your “turbinates”, where are they? What is the anatomy of this part of the nose, what is its function, and what diseases may occur?

Turbines: Definition

Turbines, also known as turbinates or turbinates (plural), are conchoidal networks of bones, blood vessels, and tissues within the nasal passages. These structures are responsible for heating, humidifying and filtering the air we breathe. There are usually three turbinates, including upper (upper), middle, and lower (lower) turbinates. However, sometimes you may have a fourth turbinate (called the upper turbinate) that sits higher than the upper turbinate.

Between each turbinate is a space (called the flesh), and each turbinate is named in accordance with the name of the turbinate directly above the space. These spaces form our nasal passages, which guide the flow of air through our nose.

Structure (anatomy) of the turbinate (Conchae)

As mentioned earlier, the turbinate is divided into three parts, the upper, middle, and lower carapace.

Lower meat (inferior turbinate)

The inferior meatus is the space between the bottom of the nasal cavity and the inferior turbinate. This is the largest airspace. This channel serves several purposes:

  1. The nasolacrimal duct (lacrimal duct) drains any drainage from the eye, starting in the outer eye and draining into the inferior meatus.
  2. The head of the nasal wall, the inferior meatus, and the pyriform foramen form the nasal valve. The nasal valve is the narrowest area in the nasal cavity and is usually the site of an obstruction (collapse) due to a deviated septum or other nasal abnormality.


The middle meatus is the nasal passage that lies between the lower and middle meatus. This space is important for:

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  1. Drainage of the three paranasal sinuses; maxillary, frontal and anterior (anterior) ethmoid.
  2. Air flows through the paranasal sinuses, which produce our voice.

Superior meat (upper shell)

The upper meatus is the nasal cavity between the middle and upper meatus. This is usually the top most nasal passage, however, occasionally there is an upper turbinate above the upper turbinate. The functions of this channel include:

  1. Drainage of two paranasal sinuses: sphenoid and dorsal (posterior) ethmoid.
  2. Like the middle meatus, airflow through this passage (interacting with the sinus cavities) helps to change the character of our voice.
  3. The mucosa of the superior turbinate (along with the upper part of the nasal septum, which separates the left and right nostrils) is lined with nerve endings that interpret smell. This is why disorders of this turbinate may lead to disturbances in the sense of smell (smell).

The upper and middle concha is part of the ethmoid, while the inferior concha is a separate structure.

The function (physiology) of the turbinates: regulation of the nasal cycle

Every one to seven hours, your nasal passages go through a cycle where one turbinate contracts (contracts) while the other expands. This then narrows some passages, restricting airflow, while widening another airway and improving airflow.During nasal cycle changes, you will not experience nasal congestion because your comprehensive Airway resistance did not change.

The purpose of the nasal loop is not fully understood, but common theories include:

  1. Crowded (narrow) passages allow the glands to “recharge”.
  2. Congested passages are also thought to clear mucus.
  3. Narrow channels (enlarged) allow for improved humidification and easier airflow.
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Turbinate disease

Turbinates may be associated with several diseases. Often, the symptom associated with these disorders is congestion. Turbinate disorders include:

  • Common Cold: We all experience turbinate problems when we suffer from congestion from the common cold.
  • allergy
  • Sleep Apnea: Abnormal turbinates are one cause of sleep apnea.
  • Concha Bullosa: Concha Bullosa is a fairly common condition in which air pockets (inflation) are present in the middle meatus. This air pocket can lead to insufficient sinus drainage and subsequent sinus infection.
  • Nasal valve collapse: The nasal valve is the narrowest part of the nasal airway, and the inferior turbinate forms part of this structure. This airway may narrow further (collapse of the nasal valve) due to trauma, a deviated septum, or rhinoplasty (plastic nose surgery).
  • Auditory tube dysfunction: Enlarged turbinates or other problems are one cause of auditory tube dysfunction, also known as Eustachian tube dysfunction.
  • Nostril atresia: Nostril atresia is a blockage of the nasal passages by tissue that is often present at birth and may affect the development of the inferior and middle turbinates.

What type of sinus congestion is affecting you?

Correcting turbinate disease

Many turbinate conditions resolve on their own, but sometimes treatment is needed to correct the problem. Turbinate reduction surgery can be performed during endoscopic sinus surgery when correction of turbinate disease is required. The procedure requires general anesthesia and is usually performed in the same-day surgery clinic.

VigorTip words

Turbines are made up of three or four structures that heat, humidify, and filter the air we breathe. An abnormal turbinate often causes congestion, just like the common cold and allergies. Structural changes in the turbinates, such as bullous turbinates and posterior nostril atresia, can also cause symptoms. In severe cases, surgery (turbinate reduction) may be required to relieve symptoms and restore function to this part of our anatomy.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes turbinate swelling?

    Turbinate swelling is usually caused by a condition called turbinate hypertrophy. This condition can be the result of colds, upper respiratory infections, acute or chronic sinus infections, allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and non-allergic rhinitis, hormonal changes, and medication. Sharing your symptoms with a healthcare provider can help determine an effective treatment plan.

  • How many turbinates are there?

    There are three turbinate structures in the nasal passages, but some people may have four. The first three include the superior (upper), middle, and inferior (lower) turbinates. The fourth turbinate, for those who have it, is called the upper turbinate because it sits above the upper turbinate.

  • What is the nasal cycle?

    Nasal circulation describes the process of constriction and swelling of the nasal passages, resulting in restricted airflow in one passage and improved airflow in the other. The turbinates are responsible for this process. Why nasal circulation occurs is not fully understood. One theory is that the narrowing of the nasal passages allows the glands to recharge.

  • What does the upper nasal passage do?

    The upper nasal passage has several different functions. It allows drainage of the back of the sphenoid and ethmoid sinuses, changes sound as air passes through it, and its nerve endings help interpret smells.