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Empty nose syndrome: etiopathogenesis and management

Abstract

Empty nose syndrome (ENS) is an iatrogenic disorder most often recognized by the presence of paradoxical nasal obstruction despite an objectively wide patent nasal cavity. It occurs after inferior and/or middle turbinate resection; however, individuals with normal turbinates and intranasal volume may also complain of ENS. Its pathophysiology remains unclear, but it is probably caused by wide nasal cavities affecting the neurosensitive receptors and inhaled air humidification. Neuropsychological involvement is also suspected. Not every patient undergoing radical turbinate resection experiences the symptoms of ENS. ENS can affect the normal breathing function of the nasal cavity, with subsequent deterioration in patients’ quality of life. The diagnosis is made on the basis of the patients’ history, endoscopic examination of the nasal cavity, imaging (computed tomography imaging and functional MRI), and rhinomanometry. Prevention is the most important strategy; thus, the inferior and middle turbinate should not be resected without adequate justification. Management is problematic including nasal cavity hygiene and humidification, with surgery reserved for the most severe cases. The surgery aims at partial filling of the nasal cavity using different techniques and implant materials. In this paper, we review both the etiology and the clinical presentation of ENS, and its conservative and surgical management.

Core tip

Empty nose syndrome (ENS) is encountered after inferior and/or middle turbinate resection; however, it can occur in patients with seemingly normal turbinates. Rhinologists should avoid routine resection of the inferior and middle turbinates. It is not certain why some patients develop ENS, whereas others do not. The frequent association with psychiatric disorders and possibly psychosomatic pathologies indicate the possible role of psychological stress in some patients. Its diagnosis relies on clinical suspicion and physical examination. Nasal augmentation surgery can improve the quality of life of patients by restoring nasal anatomy toward the premorbid state.

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Correspondence to Hassan Moustafa Hegazy MD.

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Saafan, M.E., Hegazy, H.M. & Albirmawy, O.A. Empty nose syndrome: etiopathogenesis and management. Egypt J Otolaryngol 32, 119–129 (2016). https://doi.org/10.4103/1012-5574.186540

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Keywords

  • atrophic rhinitis
  • empty nose syndrome
  • endoscopic
  • nasal physiology
  • turbinate