Located on the interior surface of the nasal passages just upstream from the nasal valve, the turbinates are composed of bone and soft tissue. They appear as ridges of tissue that protrude slightly into the nasal passage. Their three bony ridges are also known as the nasal conchae because they are shell-thin. The turbinates are identified as the superior at the top, the middle and the inferior at the lowest. They are lined with a mucous membrane that helps to cleanse, warm and moisturize air as it flows through the nose to the lungs when we inhale. The tissue of the turbinates is richly supplied with blood vessels, and it can expand or contract, both to help regulate the temperature of incoming air, and to adjust the pressure and volume of air as it flows in through the nose and onward through the nasal cavity to the throat and the lungs.
Normally, there's sufficient clearance between the turbinates and the septum to allow air to pass easily when we inhale. However, when the turbinates become hypertrophic (enlarged or swollen, in plain language), they can go from regulating to obstructing the air flow. This makes breathing more difficult, and can lead to snoring, and disrupted sleep. People who are diagnosed by a doctor as having hypertrophic turbinates are often referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist, who can confirm the diagnosis using endoscopic camera images among other tools.
The first line of treatment is sometimes decongestant medicine, to shrink the swollen membrane, which widens the airway to reduce nasal obstruction. This can restore more comfortable breathing. If the swelling returns frequently, and does not respond to medication, the doctor may recommend surgery to reduce the size of the turbinate.