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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.