Turbinate hypertrophy and other woes

It sounds like a rocket part. It’s actually a thing that’s happening in my nose. Nose rocketry! Well… no.

It’s like this. My husband noticed that I was getting out of breath when we were walking. My heart rate wasn’t elevated, but I was breathing through my mouth. The right side of my nose just felt permanently stuffed up.

So I finally went to the doctor and she said, “Hm… I can’t see to the back of your nose. You probably have a polyp. Here’s a specialist. It’s easy to snip out and he’ll probably do it while you wait.”

So I went to the specialist and he stuck a probe up my nose, with a tiny little camera on the end, which was gross and cool all at the same time. He said, “It’s not a polyp, but you appear to have a collapsed nasal valve. This is an easy thing to fix, and we can do it in the office. Let’s do a CT scan just to be sure.”

So the CT scan comes back, and he sits me down and says. “Well… it is a collapsed nasal valve. And a deviated septum, that doesn’t look bad from the outside, but inside, it’s narrowing the channel quite a bit.” Even to my eye, that was painfully clear on the CT scan. “And you also have turbinate hypertrophy.”

“That sounds like part of a rocket ship.”

He laughed, thank heavens. “You have structures in the nose called turbinates, which cause the air to hit different surfaces to help with allergies and smells. Yours are enlarged, so instead of causing the air to swirl around, they’re blocking things.”

“I’m sensing this is no longer out patient surgery.”

Technically, it is. But just for insurance reasons. You’ll be in the hospital for 23 hours.” And then he proceeded to detail what they were going to do to me. I’ll spare you that bit. “You can expect to need about a week of recovery time. What do you do for a living?”

“I’m an audiobook narrator.”

“Ah–” He swiveled toward me, and I could tell that we’d just gone off script. “Then let’s talk about resonance.”

Tomorrow’s surgery will fix the breathing problems. I’m apparently down to about 40% airflow on the right side of my nose. It may also change the way I sound.

It may not. He can’t tell me definitely either way, only warn me that it might be a consequence. The only thing that he can assure me of is that I won’t sound more nasal.

This will be the first time I’ve had surgery (not counting wisdom teeth). Being a writer, I’m strangely excited about it, because there’s so much good material and it is a mostly elective surgery. I mean, I could continue on with mouth-breathing when I walk and things would be fine. So there’s no pressure or stress about that.

As a narrator, I’m a little terrified. Again, it’ll be fine, and I know that, but I am about to change my instrument. I’ve recorded a sample text of “before” and I’m going to record the same thing again in the “after” stage to see how much it changes. It might not be perceptible at all.

And then, as just me, I’m worried that when they straighten out the septum they’ll “fix” my nose and get rid of the bump. When I was a teen, I would have loooooooved that. But 47 year old me really likes my nose now. It took me a long time to be comfortable with it and it’s mine. I know it will look somewhat different, because, well, they are breaking it and moving things. But still… I don’t want to look like someone else. The doctor knows that.

All of which is to say that tomorrow will be fine, and yet I’m still a bundle of anxiety. So, if you have a funny story to share, or something adorable, tomorrow would be an excellent time.

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33 thoughts on “Turbinate hypertrophy and other woes”

  1. Hi Mary –

    I had my turbinates reduced, let’s see, five years ago or so, along with a T&A. (That’s tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy, in ENT-speak.) I’m a singer, so I was similarly worried. I’ve had more or less zero airflow through my nose all my life, and it was contributing to sleep apnea, so it really wasn’t a surgery I was prepared not to get, so I just had to hope.

    What I found was that it did not at all negatively affect either my tone quality or my range. (And my range is huge.) But being able to breathe through my nose most of the time was a revelation, and improved my breath control quite a lot. I’m very glad I did it. There was a little bit of adjustment to doing some things slightly differently, but overall I feel like I came out well ahead.

    Obviously YMMV and including the septum is a big difference. But I thought it might be nice to have someone’s positive experience to refer to.

  2. Caitlin Rosberg

    When I had my wisdom teeth removed, when I woke up in the “recovery room” as the anesthesia wore off, all I could say was “Why am I in this fucking closet?” over and over again, stuck on a loop for about fifteen minutes while my brain caught up with what was happening. My mother still finds it absolutely hilarious.

    I still mutter it under my breath at any given opportunity, including being stuck in a dressing room trying on wedding dresses.

    Good luck!

    1. Michael Scott Howard

      I had a similar story with my wisdom teeth except what I kept saying over and over with gauze in my mouth was, “Have I had my surgery yet?” I guess before I properly woke up though, my brother and the nurse would start talking and I would sit upright very suddenly and stare at them until they quieted down, at which point I would collapse back into full unconsciousness.

  3. Oy. I seem to have a minor case of that – last time they checked it wasn’t bad enough to surgically fix , but this year’s allergies dry weather have been making my right side feel like nothing’s getting through. Might be worth another check once my hectic summer season is over (now – end of July). I do also have a pretty deviated septum, but no one’s ever suggested fixing that. I broke my nose as a kid and it healed crooked, but all it’s done is make me snore when I have a cold. *shrugs* best of luck with the surgery!

  4. Hi Mary,
    I am 38, and at 25 I had the same surgery (turbinectomy and rhinoplasty). After it, my voice was much better (I sounded very nasal all the time) and I was able to breathe, and I felt wonderful.
    The recovery was quick, ice helped a lot.
    It didn’t change the way I look like: I still have my nose bump :ˆ)
    I hope you have a great day tomorrow, and I hope you fell less anxious 🙂

  5. This sounds like more or less the same problem I had — I’d been like that my entire life, but after a year of more or less chronic sinus infections, my ENT finally said, “Let’s image your head.”

    Turns out my turbinates were blocking huge swaths of my nose and I also had a deviated septum. While I don’t work with my voice for a living, I do sing (and answer calls) and aside from being able to breathe more easily on every front I don’t believe it’s changed things too terribly much. I recommend having someone who’s got a good solid head on their shoulders around for your recovery, as it can be a bit disorienting to be stuffed up with gauze and recovering from anesthesia, but I have no regrets.

    It’s bliss to be able to breathe freely, especially when I’m active. When my coaches used to tell me to ‘breathe in through your nose’ as a kid, I looked at them like they had two heads. It’d be like sucking air through a coffee stirrer — not even a real straw.

    Anyway. Best of luck to you! 🙂

  6. I hope you laugh at this. When Charlotte was four she had some surgery in her ears. It was outpatient surgery also. About an hour after the surgery was over, she was still really out of it, the nurse came in and told us she could go home. I politely objected because I really didn’t think she was ready, but she insisted. So, we helped her up on the gurney, got her ready, and she immediately threw up all over the nurse. Never argue with a mother.

  7. Hi Mary, I’m about your age, but have had a stupid number of surgeries. The good part of this is, yay modern medical science!

    And as a side effect, we’ve now got a household tradition of watching supremely crappy movies whenever I’ve had a medical thing I’ve had to do. This was all brought about when I had half of my thyroid out in 2004, at which time my housemate and another friend of ours were arguing about which movie was worse: Alien Express, which had just aired on the Sci-Fi channel, or Steven Seagel’s On Deadly Ground.

    I volunteered, since I was about to be spending several days on painkillers, to watch both movies and issue an impartial judgement as to which was the worse film. We got a whole panel of judges assembled, as it happened.

    The verdict: we called a draw. ;D

    And I can now recommend a huge number of supremely crappy movies to watch during surgery recovery! Good luck to you and I hope all goes well and your own recovery is stress-free!

  8. Hi Mary- I had a similar procedure in the dead of winter, and they removed the gauze on a frigid day in February. All that freezing air boldly invaded places in my head where no air had ever gone before. So you’re better off having it done in June. Wishing you a speedy recovery.

  9. Lou Wainwright

    Hi Mary,

    To add to the positive experiences. I’ve had two sinus surgeries. In the first I had a severely deviated septum repaired, and a minor turbinate reduction. The second, two years later, was another turbinate reduction and removal of a bit of scar tissue from the first surgery. Both were outpatient, and in neither case did anyone, including me or my wife, hear the slightest difference in my voice (or, for that matter, the shape of my nose). But boy, the experience of being able to breath through my nose for the first time in my life was something amazing. I still, 10 years later, don’t take it for granted.

    The only negative is that the first surgery, which my doctor said required unusually aggressive restructuring of my deviated septum, left me sitting on the couch in pain, sleeping sitting up, for 3 days. But the second surgery was so easy I went to work the next day. So I caution people not to make assumptions about the speed of recovery, as it can vary widely. That said, I certainly have no regrets and had no side effects from the surgeries.


  10. I had my deviated septum corrected, turbinates enlarged and a mucous cyst excised from a sinus cavity in one surgical sitting. Left the surgery center the same day having experienced no issues with the procedure.

    If you haven’t been advised already, plan to sleep upright for a few nights, Mary. I used our reclining easy chair with extra pillows for support. It helped alleviate some of the drainage woes. Did not use any prescribed pain meds. OTC Tylenol was more than adequate in my case.

    Bloody nose fatigue set in within a day or so. With all the bulky nasal packing, the discharge only had one place to go. Warm soups, broths and beverages really helped reduce the unpleasantness plus provided plenty of hydration–a bonus. However, with your sense of smell blocked off, no need for anything gourmet on the menu. Save it to celebrate down the road when you can best enjoy it again. Still, I was quite happy to lose the packing and the intranasal splints when that time came though it meant a new wave of bloody nose coping on top of being very mindful of what I did with my nose. Wiping, blowing, picking, sneezing… all were out of bounds and required diligence to not do absent mindedly. I believe the worst of it was past by the end of the second week or so.

    Don’t be quick to judge any changes in your inflow or outflow until well after the swelling abates. Perhaps 3 – 6 weeks, possibly more depending on the extent of your surgery. Based on my experience, I would expect you’ll have noticeably more air volume at your disposal, going both directions. Personally, I appreciated the greater air capacity when I gave presentations at work, particularly the time-constrained, intensive ones where it was all about speed, diction and articulation. Also you might experience a somewhat heightened sense of smell and taste afterwards, which I still enjoy now years later. Definitely less sinus congestion and infections too, which can certainly spoil multiple days if not weeks whenever they occur. All-in-all, not a bad tune-up with the longer term pluses well outweighing the short term minuses.

    You’ll do fine and I truly believe you’ll be pleased with the finished results. All the best and may the recovery be speedy.

  11. Mary, I have no relevant experience, but I just wanted to wish you luck with the surgery and an easy recovery where you get to do something entertaining that is ordinarily hard to justify.

  12. Like Pamela, I have no relevant experience, just want to wish you well on the surgery and a fast, easy, and complete recovery.

  13. Good luck and good wishes to you. I often say “Strength to your sword arm!” to friends facing things, so I guess I should wish you “Strength to your narrating nose”?

  14. Good luck!

    And I understand the swerving conversation. When I first got diagnosed with chronic bronchitis (a misdiagnosis as it turned out) the doc said “It won’t be a problem as long as you don’t have to talk for a living.”

  15. Best wishes, and best of luck, Mary.

    I’ve never undergone major surgery, but I did have a scary infection when I was young because of a “Big Wheel” incident that landed me in isolation for a few days in the hospital.

  16. You are an excellent audio book narrator, and that is not just due to the way you sound, but also your pacing, rhythm, and understanding of how to interject emotion and humor into how you read the paragraphs. Those things will not change.
    Furthermore, your writing is uniquely creative, fun, and deep. You have great ideas and understanding of human characters, which you communicate well. That’s actually an uncommon gift.

    I discovered you as a writer due to your narration of the October Daye series, and there’s just no turning back now. I’m already eagerly waiting for Ghost Talkers and was thrilled to find one of the Ginger short stories.

    This is going to be okay and better airflow will help your life and health so much. Good luck today. Be easy on yourself in recovery.

    And thank you for telling me that this constant blocked/stuffy nose thing might be fixed – I’ve had issues my whole life, nasal sprays do nothing, and no one thought to say – oh, that’s not normal. It’s something to think about.

  17. David Alex Lamb

    Good luck and good wishes. I understand how it can be especially scary when you’re facing a procedure that could affect your livelihood: I hope other people’s experiences listed above are reassuring.

  18. I hope the surgery and recovery both go well, and your life gets easier when all is said and done.

  19. I just wanted to tell both you and your nose good luck, we’re all counting on you. 😉

    Seriously, I heard about this through John Scalzi’s Twitter and I wanted to take a break from taking a break from the internet to wish you the best today. I have nothing adorable to share except pictures of my kids, and I don’t want to be THAT parent, so I’ll spare you.

    Get well soon, Mary!

  20. I had turbinate reduction surgery several years ago. The first three or four days (with drainage tubes sticking out of my nose) were icky. However, the amazing thing was once the doctor removed the surgical packing a few days after the surgery (it was like a bad clown act, because she pulled what seemed like yards and yards of surgical gauze out of my nose), even with the temporary post-op swelling, I could breathe through both sinuses! My voice didn’t change, and I also contracted sinus infections much less easily. The reduced turbinates also increased my sinus airflow using a CPAP airflow, which in turn dramatically improved my quality of sleep. If I’d known how much of an improvement it would have provided, I’d have gotten the surgery many years sooner.

  21. Best of luck with your surgery!

    Here’s a bit of very practical hospital advice: when you order food, make sure it’s something that will hold well for a long time. Because mealtime is inevitably when you’ll get a visit from the doctor, the nurse, and at least three other specialists. I have discovered that bacon, eggs, and toast don’t fare particularly well when they sit for an hour, even under those insulated plate covers they use (I should have gone for the oatmeal). Here in Northern California, I have discovered that the Indian food they serve in the hospital is actually quite good (chana masala FTW!) but I don’t know what options they’ll have in other parts of the country.

    I don’t listen to audiobooks very much, so I’m not familiar with your work there – but I adore your writing.

  22. Scott Richards

    I’ve actually had surgery for a deviated septum and had my turbinates reduced as well. I’ve been a professional singer and public speaker for years and I did notice a difference post surgery, but for the better. My resonance was slightly different, but I had a much easier time accessing my full range.

    I think you’ll find that you sound different to yourself, but not necessarily to others. But it will be much easier to speak and breathe and generally live. Though I hope you’re ready for a whole lot of fun sinus rinsing. Whee!

    Bonus: when I had my surgery done my wife was pregnant with our second child. She went into early labor while I was recovering so there I was, gauze packed and on Vicodin, by my wife in the delivery room. Our baby is happy and healthy now and she’ll have a great story to hear when she’s older.

    Good luck!

  23. Whoa! I almost didn’t even know about this. Hope you’re starting to feel better by now. I’ll try not to be funny in case you’re still not in the mood for laughing.

    (I hope . . . that wasn’t funny, was it? I find it difficult to tell sometimes. I usually laugh at my own jokes, and I didn’t laugh at that, but it really isn’t a reliable indicator.)

    Anyway, I never had the surgery you’re having, but I did have sinus surgery a few years ago, and got my ethmoids reamed out. I was lucky that they used dissolvable packing, so I never had to have those yards of gauze pulled out. At least, I think that’s what they did . . . hmm . . . maybe I just assumed that because they never pulled it out. But maybe they just forgot, and it’s all still up there! I do remember that I wasn’t supposed to blow my nose for two weeks, but the heck with that.

    Anyway, I’m also glad I had it done. Although I was hoping that afterward I’d sound like James Earl Jones, and that never happened.

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