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Nasal conchae

Recommended video: Lateral wall of nasal cavity [15:43]
Bones, cartilages and mucosa with a focus on the lateral wall of the nasal cavity.

The nasal conchae (also known as turbinates) are bony plates located on the lateral wall of the nasal cavity. There are three nasal conchae in each nasal cavity including the superior, middle and inferior nasal conchae. These plates project inferomedially and divide the nasal cavity into five distinct passages including the spheno-ethmoidal recess, three nasal meatuses (superior, middle, and inferior), and a common nasal meatus into which the four lateral passages open. 

The superior and middle nasal conchae are processes of the ethmoid bone, while the inferior nasal concha is formed by a separate cranial bone (of the same name). 

Due to its highly convoluted and ‘scroll-like’ arrangement, the main function of the nasal concha is to increase the surface area of the nasal cavities in order to provide warming and humidification of air as it passes to the lungs

This article will discuss the anatomy and function of the nasal conchae.

Key facts about the nasal conchae
Conchae Superior nasal concha (from ethmoid bone)
Middle nasal concha (from ethmoid bone)
Inferior nasal concha (separate bone)
Spaces Spheno-ethmoidal recess
Superior nasal meatus
Middle nasal meatus
Inferior nasal meatus
Common nasal meatus
Functions Warming and humidification of air, protection of sinuses and olfactory cells, draining of sinuses
  1. Superior and middle nasal conchae
  2. Inferior nasal concha
  3. Clinical relations
    1. ​​Sinusitis
  4. Sources
+ Show all

Superior and middle nasal conchae

The superior and middle nasal conchae are medial bony projections of the ethmoid bone. These two bony plates project inferomedially into the nasal cavity and participate in the formation of three spaces: 

  • The spheno-ethmoidal recess
  • The superior nasal meatus
  • The middle nasal meatus

The spheno-ethmoidal recess is a small cleft-like pocket located above the superior nasal concha. This recess drains the sphenoidal sinus (air-filled opening in the sphenoid bone). 

The superior nasal meatus is located between the superior and middle nasal conchae. The superior meatus communicates with the posterior ethmoidal sinuses (air-filled opening in the ethmoid bone). 

The middle nasal meatus is formed by the middle nasal concha superiorly, and the inferior nasal concha inferiorly. The middle meatus is longer and deeper than its superior counterpart. This passage communicates with the frontal sinus (air-filled opening in the frontal bone) through a funnel-shaped opening called the ethmoidal infundibulum. In addition, it drains the maxillary, and anterior ethmoidal sinuses.

Note that all formed passages connect in the common nasal meatus. The common nasal meatus is a longitudinal space between the medial aspects of the conchae and nasal septum.

Inferior nasal concha

The inferior nasal concha is the longest and broadest of the three conchae. Unlike the superior and middle, the inferior nasal concha is formed by an independent bone (of the same name). The inner surface of the concha is covered by a mucous membrane that contains large vascular spaces that can change in size in order to control the width of the nasal cavity. 

The inferior nasal concha participates in the formation of two spaces including the middle and inferior nasal meatuses. 

The inferior nasal meatus is the largest of the spaces in the nasal cavity that lies beneath the inferior nasal concha and the lateral nasal wall. It is responsible for the majority of airflow direction, humidification, heating and filtering of air inhaled through the nose. The inferior nasal meatus also receives lacrimal fluid from the nasolacrimal canal through an opening known as Hassner’s valve.

Test your knowledge on the nasal cavity with this quiz.

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