What is nasal airway surgery?

Nasal airway surgery is the surgical repair of abnormal structures in the nasal cavity. Your nasal cavity is a tunnel that extends from your nostrils to the top of your throat. It is made up of various bones, soft tissue, and cartilage. Nasal airway surgery can help restore airflow and full function of a damaged or diseased nasal cavity.

Nasal airway surgery is a common but major surgery with serious risks and potential complications. You may have less invasive treatment options. Consider getting a second opinion about all your treatment choices before having nasal airway surgery. 

Types of nasal airway surgery

The types of nasal airway surgery procedures include:

  • Ethmoidectomy removes part of the ethmoid bone. Your ethmoid bone is located at the top of your nasal cavity and makes up the ethmoid sinus. Ethmoidectomy can improve nasal drainage into your throat.
  • Polypectomy removes polyps in the nasal cavity. Polyps are noncancerous swellings in the nose that can block airflow.
  • Septoplasty corrects a deviated nasal septum or other septal deformity that can obstruct airflow through the nose and cause difficulty breathing. Your nasal septum divides your nasal cavity into left and right sides and ends at your nostrils. 
  • Tumor removal is the surgical excision of a tumor from your nasal cavity.
  • Turbinate surgery reduces the size of your nasal turbinates, which can cause obstruction and difficulty breathing through the nose. Your nasal turbinates are located on the outer side walls of your nasal cavity. They project out into your nasal cavity and are responsible for conditioning and filtering the air that moves through your nasal cavity.

Other procedures that may be performed

Your doctor may perform other procedures in addition nasal airway surgery. These include:

  • Rhinoplasty is the repair or reshaping of the nose. It is often called a “nose job.”
  • Sinus surgery is the widening of the sinus passages to allow for proper drainage to the nose.

Why is nasal airway surgery performed? 

Your doctor may recommend nasal airway surgery to treat a damaged or diseased nasal cavity. Damaged or diseased structures in the nasal cavity can block the flow of air through your nose. Nasal airway obstruction can lead to chronic mouth breathing, sleep apnea, chronic headaches, and recurrent nasal infections.

Your doctor may only consider nasal airway surgery for you if other treatment options with less risk of complications have been ineffective. Ask your doctor about all of your treatment options and consider getting a second opinion before deciding on nasal airway surgery.

Your doctor may recommend nasal airway surgery for: 

  • Enlarged nasal turbinates that extend too far into your nasal cavity, blocking efficient airflow
  • Nasal airway obstruction from polyps or an abnormal ethmoid bone
  • Nasal polyps or tumors that block efficient airflow
  • Deviated septum or nasal septal deformity that is making it difficult to breathe through your nose
  • Septal spur headaches caused by a sharp projection of the septum from a nose injury
  • Uncontrollable nosebleeds, often from septal deformities

Who performs nasal airway surgery?

The following specialists perform nasal airway surgery:

  • Otolaryngologists (ENTs) specialize in the treatment of diseases and conditions of the ears, nose and throat. 
  • Head and neck plastic surgeons specialize in correcting physical defects within the head and neck that can affect a person's appearance and ability to function.
  • Plastic surgeons specialize in correcting physical defects that affect a person's appearance or ability to function. 
  • Pediatric otolaryngologists (pediatric ENTs) specialize in the treatment of diseases and conditions of the ears, nose and throat in infants, children and adolescents.

How is nasal airway surgery performed?

Your nasal airway surgery will be performed in a hospital or outpatient surgery setting. 

Surgical approaches to nasal airway surgery

Your doctor will perform nasal airway surgery using one of the following approaches: