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Turbinate Cautery

(Radiofrequency Ablation of Turbinates; RFA of Turbinates)



Turbinate cautery is decreases the size of the blood vessels and tissues in the turbinates.

The turbinates are 3 paired sets of structures that line the inside wall of the nose. They filter, moisten, and heat air as it enters the nose. They are made of small bones surrounded by soft tissue.

nucleus fact sheet image

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


Reasons for Procedure    TOP

Enlarged turbinates make it hard for air to pass through the nose. There are many causes such as allergies or a deviated septum. Turbinate cautery shrinks the size of the turbinates to help open the airway. It also:

  • Eases breathing
  • Decreases postnasal drip and drainage
  • Allows the sinuses to drain

Possible Complications    TOP

Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review possible problems such as:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Crusting
  • Scar tissue
  • Problems with nasal obstruction, drainage, or sinuses
  • Changes in your breathing
  • More surgery if turbinate tissue grows back

What to Expect    TOP

Prior to Procedure

You may have:

  • A physical exam
  • Blood tests
  • Imaging tests to see nasal structures

Before your procedure:

  • Follow instructions on what to eat and drink the night before.
  • Talk to your doctor about all medicines you take. You may need to stop taking some up to 1 week in advance.
  • You will need to stop smoking before the procedure. Smoking leads to an increase in scar tissue and poor healing that affects the success of the surgery.


In most cases, turbinate cautery is done with local anesthesia. Your nose and the area around it will be numb.

Description of the Procedure    TOP

A heated probe is place in the nose. The heat clots and closes off certain turbinate blood vessels. The changes in blood flow will help shrink the tissue.

The probe is removed when the procedure is done.

How Long Will It Take?    TOP

Less than 30 minutes.

Will It Hurt?    TOP

Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. You may be advised to take mild pain relievers after.

Post-procedure Care    TOP

At the Care Center

The healthcare staff will watch for any problems such as bleeding. You can leave as soon as you feel ready.

If more extensive work was done, you may need to stay longer.

At Home

Swelling is normal. It should last a few days. Breathing should be easier after a few weeks as the tissue heals.

You will need to avoid certain activities for a short time. Trapped blood and mucus are removed at follow up appointments.


Call Your Doctor    TOP

Call your doctor if any of these occur:

  • Fever or chills
  • Increase in bleeding or pus
  • Persistent nosebleeds
  • Problems lasting longer than you or your doctor expect

If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.


American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians


Canadian Society of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery

The College of Family Physicians of Canada


Brunworth J, Holmes J, Sindwani R. Inferior turbinate hypertrophy: Review and graduated approach to surgical management. Am J Rhinol Allergy. 2013;27(5):411-415.

Radiofrequency tissue reduction for turbinate hypertrophy. NICE interventional procedure guidance 495. Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ipg495. Published June 2014.

Septoplasty & turbinate surgery. American Rhinologic Society website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated February 17, 2015. Accessed July 2, 2018.

Septoplasty and turbinate surgery. VCU Health Services website. Available at: https://ent.vcu.edu/docs/septoplasty_1.pdf. Accessed July 2, 2018.

Last reviewed May 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Donald W. Buck II, MD
Last Updated: 7/2/2018

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