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What is Empty Nose Syndrome?

By M.R. Anglin
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Empty nose syndrome is a collection of symptoms that occurs as a result of a patient not possessing adequate nasal turbinates, structures in the nose that provide functions necessary to proper breathing. These nasal tissues may be lost through a turbinectomy, a surgery that removes some or all of the nasal turbinates. The result is that a patient's nose looks empty when viewed on a computerized tomography (CT) scan, a phenomenon which led Dr. E.B. Kern, MD, to coin the phrase in the 1990s. Some of the symptoms of empty nose syndrome may include a patient feeling as if he is not inhaling enough air, nasal infections, pain, and crusting of the nose.

One of the functions of the nasal turbinates is relaying to the brain the message that enough air is passing through the nose for human survival. They also provide air resistance and increase air pressure, which allows the lungs to properly inflate and deflate. Some patients with empty nose syndrome may feel as if they are not inhaling enough air because the turbinates are not present to relay the appropriate information to the brain, to pressurize the air, and to provide air resistance. Other patients may feel as if their noses are stuffy, and some feel as though they are constantly suffocating. These feelings can also cause lack of concentration, anxiety, and depression.

Without the humidifying power of the turbinates, a person may also experience other symptoms of empty nose syndrome, namely dryness, pain, and burning. In a normally functioning body, the nose will humidify air enough so that when it gets to the lungs, it is at about 98% humidity. Lungs need moist air to function properly, so without the turbinates present to humidify the air, the lungs may not be able to work in the way they were intended. In addition, the turbinates trap moisture from the air being exhaled through the nose and so help to prevent dehydration.

The removal of the nasal turbinates can also bring about another symptom of empty nose syndrome: sinus infections. Turbinates trap foreign particles entering the nose, and without the turbinates, there is virtually nothing to stop these particles from getting into the sinuses. Thus, a person with this condition may find himself constantly battling sinus infections. Sometimes these infections require the use of surgery to correct.

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Discussion Comments
By anon1004159 — On Dec 01, 2020

I had turbinate reduction in November 2019 and my life is a living hell. I wish that I had researched more before this life changing surgery. I don't if I can continue to live like this! This is horrible. Don't touch your turbinates!

By anon939518 — On Mar 13, 2014

I had half of my inferior turbinates cut out because the doctor said it would help with my snoring. This was an elective surgery to reduce the bulbous tip of my nose and I was told I had large tissue in my nose. (He never said the word "turbinate" or I would have looked it up!) I said that must be why I snore. That was tissue "I didn't need," so said the doc.

I trusted he knew what he was doing; he had a great reputation. Well, life as I knew it came to a screeching halt and now I will live the rest of my life in a daily nightmare. I would never have believed this was so bad until it happened to me. So sad.

By anon306124 — On Nov 28, 2012

This surgery will end your life. ENS is that bad. Don't touch your turbinates!

By anon299692 — On Oct 26, 2012

Oh my God. I thought having a constantly blocked nose I had to blow 20 times a day was annoying, but it's nothing at all compared to how bad ENS sounds.

I was thinking of getting surgery to fix my nose but now I'll never allow it to be touched! I hope you all can find some relief.

By anon255555 — On Mar 18, 2012

Totally agree. It screwed my life completely and worse of all, I was not even informed by the doctor/surgeon that he planned to remove my middle turbinate without my consent. All he told me was just trust me and he had done many surgeries and no patient had came back with any problems.

All I can say is he is a 'B' who screwed my life. Always insist on knowing the procedure before agreeing to the surgery.

By anon186018 — On Jun 14, 2011

By the way, thank you for making this post anonymously. This surgery is a serious crime. Someone should talk about it. But it's very difficult to do something, when you're a victim yourself. This surgery disables. I don't understand people who say it's successful. It's absolutely ruined my life!

By anon186016 — On Jun 14, 2011

This surgery is fascism! It must be prohibited! Safer techniques are available. Don't remove turbinates! Don't remove cartilage! It ruins people's lives! This feel of something missing in there is cruelty. It destroys!

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