Empty Nose Syndrome

Empty Nose Syndrome (ENS) — a byproduct of common nasal surgery — has stumped many doctors and scientists, some of whom suspect the suffocating condition may just be imaginary. Turbinates are tiny structures inside your nose that cleanse, heat and humidify air as it passes through your nasal cavity and into your lungs. Turbinate reductions are routinely performed around the world, and usually with great success. However, some patients say this surgical procedure has ruined their lives. In Michael Jackson’s wrongful death suit, one of his doctors testified that Jackson’s insomnia could have been a result of empty nose syndrome. Support groups are filled with people who say they’ve been discounted by doctors who told them nothing is wrong — that it’s all in their heads. In China, one man who said he had empty nose syndrome became so enraged that he stabbed an otolaryngologist to death. Even as some ENT doctors doubt the syndrome’s existence, a handful of otolaryngologists have made it their mission to figure out why some people develop it, how to prevent it, and whether underlying mental conditions should be considered when diagnosing and treating this invisible illness. As Dr. Spencer Payne of the University of Virginia explained, “The problem with empty nose syndrome is probably not that it doesn't exist; it's that we can't adequately explain its existence by what we currently understand about the nose.” Patients suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia face the same skepticism. Physicians also once believed Irritable Bowel Syndrome was a psychological condition. To suffer is one thing, but to suffer and be told by medical professionals that nothing is wrong is enough to make some people want to end it all. Turbinate reductions aren’t likely to go away, which means the focus should now be on educating doctors and not discounting patients.