Rhinitis is the increase in the size of the turbinates caused by an inflammation of the mucous membrane that covers them. This inflammation is caused by an allergy. In the UK alone, around 20% of the population has some kind of allergy or another.
What are turbinates?
Turbinates are structures that are found inside the nostrils. They have a bony framework and are covered with a vascularised mucous membrane (meaning a large blood supply). Turbinates have the function of filtering, heating and moistening the air we breathe.
What is rhinitis?
One of the conditions affecting the turbinates is rhinitis, an inflammation of the mucous membrane that covers the turbinates. This inflammation is usually caused by an allergy. Rhinitis becomes a problem when it is chronic, causing great discomfort for the patient. Rhinitis can be triggered by common allergens and also develop due to an infection (non-allergic rhinitis).
How to watch out for rhinitis symptoms
Rhinitis basically has two main symptoms:
- Nasal obstruction: the larger turbinates occupy more space and there is less space for air to enter the nose. Inflammation of the nasal mucosa contributes to this sensation.
- Rhinorrhoea: usually clear or whitish mucous in the nose that causes sneezing and a runny nose.
What does rhinitis treatment involve?
Rhinitis treatment is based on sprays of steroids and antihistamines. When this treatment is not effective, there is the option of radiofrequency surgery on the turbinates.
What is radiofrequency surgery?
Radiofrequency surgery is a procedure used to reduce the size of the inferior turbinates (the major cause of nasal obstruction) in order to treat rhinitis. To do this, a terminal with a needle tip is inserted through the nostril. Several punctures are made in each inferior turbinate and radiofrequency is administered to obtain a decrease in their volume.
It is a technique that lasts about 15 minutes and is performed in the operating room under general anaesthesia with a laryngeal mask. The treatment is suitable for all patients with rhinitis who do not have a high anaesthetic risk.
What happens after the operation?
The patient can be discharged one or two hours after the radiofrequency surgery to treat their rhinitis, and normal activity can be resumed the next day with no rhinitis.
Radiofrequency surgery is not a painful intervention, but for a few days after surgery, the patient may need to be prescribed paracetamol.
Nasal washes with sea water or saline are needed to clean the scabs that may appear in the first few days after rhinitis surgery. In exceptional cases, bleeding may occur.