Update on empty nose syndrome: disease mechanisms, diagnostic tools, and treatment strategies

Curr Opin Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2019 Aug;27(4):237-242. doi: 10.1097/MOO.0000000000000544.


Purpose of review: To discuss the proposed pathophysiology of empty nose syndrome (ENS), summarize and evaluate the role of validated diagnostic tools in the diagnosis of ENS, and review the medical and surgical treatment strategies for patients with ENS.

Recent findings: Historically, ENS has been associated with a reduction in nasal turbinate size; new data suggest that impaired trigeminal nerve function may also play a role in the pathophysiology of the disease. The newly validated empty nose syndrome 6 item questionnaires and Cotton test are steps forward to standardize the diagnosis of ENS. Finally, there has been a marked increase in surgical treatment strategies to reconstitute turbinate volume with various implant materials.

Summary: The diagnosis of ENS remains controversial but the last several years have seen a rejuvenation of interest in this disease entity. The validated empty nose syndrome 6 item questionnaires and Cotton test provide a standardized and objective means by which to characterize ENS. Prevention of iatrogenic ENS through avoidance of excessive turbinate reduction remains critical in preventing paradoxical nasal obstruction. Nasal humidification, patient education, and treatment of possible concomitant medical conditions (e.g., depression) constitute first lines of treatment. We support the cautious use of these screening tools as adjuncts to clinical decision-making. Although injectable implants to augment turbinate volume show promise as a therapeutic surgical technique, there is insufficient data to fully support their use at this time.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diagnostic Techniques, Respiratory System
  • Humans
  • Nose Diseases / diagnosis
  • Nose Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Nose Diseases / surgery*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Syndrome
  • Turbinates / physiopathology*
  • Turbinates / surgery*