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Advanced anatomy of lateral nasal wall



Dr. T. Balasubramanian M.S. D.L.O.


With the common use of nasal endoscopes as a diagnostic and surgical tool, the anatomy of the lateral nasal wall has been completely rewritten. In fact the present description of the lateral nasal wall anatomy confirms with the endoscopic anatomy of the lateral nasal wall. The anatomy of the lateral nasal wall is highly variable, and a thorough understanding of the anatomy is a must before proceeding with any nasal endoscopic procedure.

Nasal turbinates: The turbinates are the most prominent feature of the lateral nasal wall. They are usually three or sometimes four in number. These turbinates appear as scrolls of bone, delicate, covered by ciliated columnar epithelium. These turbinates sometimes may contain an air cell, in which case it is termed as a concha.



Diagrammatic representation of turbinates inside the nasal cavity


These turbinates project from the lateral wall of the nose. Out of these turbinates the following are present in all individuals:

The superior, middle and inferior turbinates. A small supreme turbinate may be present in some individuals. Among these turbinates the superior and the middle turbinates are components of the ethmodial complex where as the inferior turbinate is a separate bone. Commonly a prominence may be seen at the anterior attachment of the middle turbinate. This prominence is known as the agger nasi cell. This prominence varies in size in different individuals. These agger nasi cells overlie the lacrimal sac, separated from it just by a thin layer of bone. Infact this agger nasi cell is considered to be a remnant of naso turbinal bones seen in animals.

When the anterior attachment of the inferior and middle turbinates are removed, the lacrimal drainage system and sinus drainage system can be clearly seen.



Lateral wall of nose after removal of middle and inferior turbinates


The inferior meatus is present between the inferior turbianate and the lateral nasal wall. The nasal opening of the naso lacrimal duct opens in the anterior third of the inferior meatus. This opening is covered by a mucosal valve known as the Hassner's valve. The course of the naso lacrimal duct from the lacrimal sac lie under the agger nasi cell.

The middle meatus lie between the middle turbinate and the lateral nasal wall. The middle turbinate is part of the ethmoidal complex. The sinuses have been divided into the anterior and posterior groups. The anterior group of sinuses are frontal, maxillary and anterior ethmoidal sinuses. These sinuses drain into the middle meatus, i.e. under the middle turbinate.

Uncinate process: actually forms the first layer or lamella of the middle meatus. The uncinate process is a wing or boomerang shaped piece of bone. It attaches anteriorly to the posterior edge of the lacrimal bone, and inferiorly to the superior edge of the inferior turbinate. Superior attachement of the uncinate process is highly variable, may be attached to the lamina papyracea, or the roof of the ethmoidal sinus, or sometimes to the middle turbinate. The configuration of the ethmoidal infundibulum and its relationship to the frontal recess depends largely on the behavior of the uncinate process. The uncinate process can be classified into 3 types depending on its superior attachment. The anterior insertion of the uncinate process cannot be identified clearly because it is covered with mucosa which is continuous with that of the lateral nasal wall. Sometimes a small groove is visible over the area where the uncinate attaches itself to the lateral nasal wall.

Type I uncinate: Here the uncinate process bends laterally in its upper most portion and inserts into the lamina papyracea. Here the ethmoidal infundibulum is closed superiorly by a blind pouch called the recessus terminalis (terminal recess). In this case the ethmoidal infundibulum and the frontal recess are separated from each other so that the frontal recess opens in to the middle meatus medial to the ethmoidal infundibulum, between the uncinate process and the middle turbinate. The route of drainage and ventilation of the frontal sinus run medial to the ethmoidal infundibulum.


Type I uncinate process


Type II uncinate: Here the uncinate process extends superiorly to the roof of the ethmoid. The frontal sinus opens directly into the ethmoidal infundibulum. In these cases a disease in the frontal recess may spread to involve the ethmoidal infundibulum and the maxillary sinus secondarily. Sometimes the superior end of the uncinate process may get divided into three branches one getting attached to the roof of the ethmoid, one getting attached to the lamina papyracea, and the last getting attached to the middle turbinate.


Type II uncinate


Type III uncinate process: Here the superior end of the uncinate process turns medially to get attached to the middle turbinate. Here also the frontal sinus drains directly into the ethmoidal infundibulum.

Rarely the uncinate process itself may be heavily pneumatised causing obstruction to the infundibulum.

Type III uncinate


Ethmoidal infundibulum: is a cleft like space, which is three dimensional in the lateral wall of the nose. This structure belongs to the anterior ethmoid. This space is bounded medially by the uncinate process and the mucosa covering it. Major portion of its lateral wall is bounded by the lamina papyracea, and the frontal process of maxilla to a lesser extent. Defects in the medial wall of the infundibulum is covered with dense connective tissue and periosteum. These defects are known as anterior and poterior fontanelles. Anteriorly the ethmoidal infundibulum ends blindly in an acute angle.



Figure showing osteomeatal complex (click on figure to enlarge)


Hiatus semilunaris: Lies between the anterior wall of the Bulla and the free posterior margin of the uncinate process. This is infact a two dimensional space. Through this hiatus a cleft like space can be entered. This is known as the ehtmoidal infundibulum. This ethmoidal infundibulum is bounded medially along its entire length by the uncinate process and its lining mucosa. The lateral wall is formed by the lamina papyracea of the orbit, with participation from the frontal process of the maxilla and the lacrimal bone. The anterior group of sinuses drain into this area. Infact this area acts as a cess pool for all the secretions from the anterior group of sinuses.

Ostiomeatal complex: This term is used by the surgeon to indicate the area bounded by the middle turbiante medially, the lamina papyracea laterally, and the basal lamella superiorly and posteriorly. The inferior and anterior borders of the osteomeatal complex are open. The contents of this space are the aggernasi, nasofrontal recess (frontal recess), infundibulum, bulla ethmoidalis and the anterior group of ethmoidal air cells.

Some authors divide this osteomeatal complex into anterior and posterior. The classic osteomeatal complex described already has been described as the anterior osteomeatal complex, while the space behind the basal lamella containing the posterior ethmoidal cells is referred to as the posterior ethmoidal complex, thus recognising the importance of basal lamella as an anatomical landmark to the posterior ethmoidal system. Hence the anterior and the posterior osteomeatal complex has separate drainage systems. So when the disease is limited to the anterior compartment of the osteomeatal complex, the ethmoid cells can be opened and diseased tissue removed as far as the basal lamella, leaving the basal lamella undisturbed minimising the risk during surgery.




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