Turbinate Cautery

(Radiofrequency Ablation of Turbinates; RFA of Turbinates)


Turbinate cautery is a procedure to decrease the size of the blood vessels and tissue in the turbinates.

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

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Reasons for Procedure    TOP

Turbinates can become enlarged and make it difficult for air to pass through the nose. This is usually caused by vasomotor or allergic rhinitis. Turbinate cautery reduces the size of the turbinates to help open up the airway. It may be done to:

  • Relieve blockage in the nasal passages
  • Improve breathing through the nose by increasing air flow
  • Reduce postnasal drip and excess drainage
  • Allow the sinuses to drain

Possible Complications     TOP

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

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Crusting
  • Excess scar tissue
  • Persistent nasal blockage, postnasal drip, or sinus problems
  • Changes in your breathing

Some turbinate tissue may regrow and require additional surgery with partial removal of turbinates.

What to Expect    TOP

Prior to Procedure

Your doctor may do the following before your surgery:

  • Physical exam
  • Blood tests
  • Imaging tests to see internal nasal structures

Before your procedure:

  • Follow instructions about eating and drinking restrictions before the procedure.
  • Talk to your doctor if you take any medications, herbs, or supplements. You may need to stop taking some medications up to 1 week before the procedure.

Your doctor will recommend that you 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, but you will still be awake.

Description of the Procedure     TOP

A heated probe is inserted into the nose. The heat clots and closes off certain blood vessels in the turbinates. Over time, the tissue will shrink because of the change in blood flow.

Once the procedure is completed, the probe is removed.

How Long Will It Take?    TOP

Less than 30 minutes.

Will It Hurt?    TOP

Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. There is little pain associated with this procedure during recovery. Discomfort can be managed with over-the-counter medications.

Post-procedure Care     TOP

At the Care Center

You will be monitored for a short period of time to check for bleeding or any complications. Once you feel ready you will be able to leave.

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

At Home

Swelling from the procedure will cause a feeling of stuffiness for a few days after surgery. Improvements in symptoms like breathing may take a few weeks. As the tissue heals, it shrinks the turbinates, improving airflow and breathing.

Certain activities may need to be restricted for a short time. Follow up appointments will be needed to clear trapped blood or mucus and check recovery progress.

Follow your doctor's instructions.

Call Your Doctor     TOP

It is important to monitor your recovery. Alert your doctor to any problems. If any of the following occur, call your doctor:

  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Increase in bleeding or discharge
  • Persistent nosebleeds
  • Any problems that last longer than you or your doctor expect
  • New or worsening symptoms

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


American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians


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. Accessed May 4, 2016.
Septoplasty & turbinate surgery. American Rhinologic Society website. Available at:
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Accessed May 4, 2016.
Septoplasty and turbinate surgery. VCU Health Services website. Available at:
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Accessed May 4, 2016.
Last reviewed June 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 6/14/2016

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