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My Struggle With A Blocked Nose (To Op Or Not To Op)

sinus surgery polyps deviated septum swollen turbinate
No one likes to go under the knife.. But this is why I did so and the process.

So a week plus ago I had my septoplasty and turbinate reduction surgery to put an end to my blocked nose (which I originally thought was sinus issues) and interestingly, found out that it is a more common problem in Singapore than I thought.

Some readers who were following my FaceBook updates came to know about this and many similar questions were fielded to me by both friends and fans.

So, I'll go completely off topic this time round to share about my surgery experience and a little review about my doctor, which hopefully helps some of you take that leap of faith if you are going through the same and sitting on the decision fence, just like I was.

In the past, I had relied on nasal sprays and irrigation netty pots to de-congest my nasal passages but they didn't do much help after awhile.

And in recent months, my blocked nose became worse and I could feel the incremental negative impact it was having on my life, energy level and focus.

I couldn't work or play as hard as I wanted to. It was getting harder to sleep well and often I felt fatigued (and dry mouthed) even right after waking up.

Despite not having done sleep apnea tests, I guess it was because I wasn't getting good quality sleep as a result of unknowingly waking up repeatedly at night to catch deeper breaths or to lubricate my uncomfortably dry mouth with saliva.

Some days, while preparing for bed time, I could feel an acute shortness of breath which was probably due to my compounded shallow breathing or lack of breathing when I get too focused on something.

Since then, and in the hopes to self-medicate and hopefully avoid surgery, I started reading up and found out more about the benefits of nose breathing vs mouth breathing and became sold that I really needed to undergo the knife to solve this issue once and for all.

Just to summarise some of my findings for you mouth breathers out there, these are some benefits of nose breathing and why I decided to take the plunge.

Benefits of Nose Breathing

1. Nose breathing helps kill bacteria and prevent infections (In times like these, it's more critical than ever!)

2. Provides better blood flow and lung volumes

3. Reduces hypertension and stress

4. Better oxygen absorption and workout performance

5. Strengthens the diaphragm (So hopefully I can sound more Jacky Cheung-ish over time)

6. Strengthens your heart, lungs, brain and other vital organs

7. Improves your appearance over time as you're less tired (So I can look fresh like Hyun Bin)

hyun bin
Disappointingly, I didn't wake up looking more like this. I do sound less nasal though.

Prior to my decision to consult a doctor, I did some self diagnosis with advanced medical equipment such as a bathroom mirror and my iPhone light, and thought I had nasal polyps as I saw reddish swollen bumps in my nose that constricted my nasal passage.

And also, having read up on a few possible issues that I could be facing such as a deviated septum (crooked nose), sinusitis and allergies, nasal polyps seemed to require the least intrusive treatment of the lot and secretly I was hoping that it would be what I was dealing with.

However, I had a nagging feeling a deviated septum might be the case as I could tell my nose wasn't symmetrical.

After checking with my brother in law, Allan Lee, from PIAS, who by the way is someone I would highly recommend for his reliability and quick response, and takes care of all my insurance matters, I realised that I could only choose Aviva's panel of specialists from their site (

Fortunately, they had plenty of options for me to choose from.

Scrolling through the list, I shortlisted 2 doctors whom weren't available and finally came to one who was. Thankfully, I had a good experience and review of Dr Lim Ing Ruen and her staff, specifically Jolene.

nasal endoscopy singapore
Feels alittle uncomfortable but nothing painful or severe.

Fast forward to consultation day and I was treated to a front-row seat of a nasal endoscopy down my sinus and nasal cavities and even a chance to see my vocal cords in action.

What is a nasal endoscopy? Well, it is simply a camera fixed onto a flexible thin tube and inserted into your nose and moved around to see what the problem is.

I told Dr Lim about my self-diagnosis and she corrected and informed me of my worst fear - It was a badly deviated septum and turbinate hypertrophy.

Turbinate hypertrophy refers to an excessive growth or enlargement of the turbinates, which are bony structures located inside the nose. To be honest, I did not even come across this online. The swollen turbinates were blocking my nose, not polyps. 

I'm could sense that Dr Lim derived that little bit of smug satisfaction from my misdiagnosis as she very kindly reminded me repeatedly over the next few times we met:

"So, you are the one who thought you had polyps right?"

In my head: "Yes, I am the smart alec who thought I can read off the internet and give you a run for your money."

That same day of consultation, I confirmed my operation date for one and a half months later and went for a CT scan followed by an ECG, chest x-ray and pre-op consultation and profiling the week after.

*You will need to apply for pre-authorization from your insurers and they may reach out to your and your clinic to determine why it is critical that you do this. According to Jolene, insurers are alot stricter amidst the current coronavirus situation, perhaps due to higher recent payouts across the globe?

These are some costs that are borne upfront and claimable later on through insurance and Medisave. Don't worry though, as the clinic staff will guide you along all the above procedures.

nasal endoscopy costs singapore
1st Visit costs

deviated septum turbinate reduction surgery singapore costs
2nd visit costs for pre-operation prep

How The Operation Went

The operation I went through comprised both a deviated septum surgery and radio frequency turbinate reduction.

deviated septum example singapore
According to Dr Lim, my septum was zig zag like which resulted in severe blockage.

Gladly, I have no recollection of it as I was under general anesthesia and knocked out within minutes of being wheeled into the operating theatre.

swollen enlarged turbinates
Example enlarged turbinates that I could see through a mirror that was blocking my airways.

turbinate reduction operation sinus
Radiofrequency turbinate reduction is like controlled damage of the swollen areas to remove them.

Having been through 3 operations, twice at Mount Elizabeth Novena and once at Mt E Orchard, I would say that the Novena's operating theatre is alot more modern and futuristic and was certainly something to wow at for that brief moment before I KO'd.

Post Operation

The op was fairly quick and painless.

I went to admissions at 930am, took nearly an hour for paperwork, checked in to ward and then changed into a sexy bare-back surgery gown, put a little tube into my blood vessels near my wrist and waited for them to wheel me into operating theatre.

For those doing surgery for the 1st time, you might feel apprehensive, but fear not.

There will be no pain at all as you will be knocked out totally.

The op was probably around an hour and a half - 1130am to about 1pm and I woke up only around 5pm.

sinus surgery operation singapore
In my groggy state with Hyun Bin's greatest fan.

I was groggy from the sedation upon awaking and went back to sleep until I finally got up for dinner in another hour or so. (Okay the dr secretly reviewed my condition)

There was still no pain and the only discomfort I felt then was minor and something like having a bad stuffy nose day.

I could also feel some blood dripping from my nose onto the green gauze mustache they stuck below my nose, but nothing more than that, which really surprised me.

That same night, I was able to walk around despite a little grogginess and indulged in the hospital's menu of lobster porridge for dinner.

I was surprised they serve seafood for post op patients and had some apprehensions but well, who could resist a good crustacean!

mount elizabeth orchard menu for hospital patients
It's only half a lobster so how bad can it be right?

The Day After Operation

The next morning came a dreadful moment which I had heard horror stories of - The removal of the large cotton nasal packing inside both nostrils that apparently brought the most pain and tears to a long time client of mine.

In fact, it was partially due to my mental playback of his story that I delayed going for the operation too.

Since consultation, I've also asked Dr. Lim and her staff about the pain level of each step and each time, they mentioned that apart from discomfort, their patients seldom felt much pain. But of course, I was skeptical!

Till Dr. Lim actually inserted the forceps and pulled the long cotton packing out of my nostrils. Each about an iPhone length and marker pen thickness.

deviated septum and radiofrequency turbinate reduction singapore
Example of the "nasal tampons" used to soak up the bleeding.

Fortunately for me, all I felt was an interesting little ticklish sensation.

She even accidentally pulled on my nostril hairs, which was more painful I said, and we laughed.

After that, I slept awhile more as the pain-killers made me drowsy and discharged by myself at 1130am.

Recovery Post Op

As I figured ahead that it was going to be a minor surgery, I lined up property consultations, viewings, video and photoshoots and meetings just 2 days later.

And what really surprised me from this operation is how long it took me to recover.

My energy level was at all time lows. I felt depressed and tired within 2 hours of waking up and had to take mid day naps quite often over the next one plus week.

I started to cut back on my property consultations so that i wouldn't jeopardize my recovery.

Then out of frustration, a simple google search enlightened me why I was so tired - The body is metabolizing at a higher rate to repair the affected areas and hence burns more energy than usual.

I also figured it might be the effects of the medication and after a few days of taking all prescribed medication religiously, I decided to stop some of them except the antibiotics.

medication for post op deviated septum turbinate reduction
Medication left over after I finished with the antibiotics

Following that, I felt better both in mood and in energy and started to regain my appetite once again.

nasal splints
Nasal splints

A week after the operation, I returned to remove the nasal splints holding up the newly re-constructed walls of my nose and had a satisfying nasal vacuum which sounded like a lot of grime and mucus being sucked out of my sinuses.

There was no pain in both procedures and just very minor discomfort and reflex induced tears when Dr Lim pulled the splints out of my nose. They were alot cleaner and less gruesome than expected and I was disappointed.

Despite my best attempts to convince her to let me take a video or photo of the procedure, she didn't allow pictures so these are examples of how the clean transparent nasal splints look like.

deviated septum turbinate removal costs post op
3rd visit post operation to remove nasal splints and vacuum up all the mucky stuff in my nose

The surgery and hospitalization interim bill came up to approximately $12K so far excluding all the above payments.

The grand total should add up to $14-15K and fortunately is fully covered by insurance and Medisave.

11 Days Since Op

The removal of nasal splints and the vacuuming brought back much needed ease of breathing through my nose especially in my left nostril. It is completely clear now and it is such a joy to breathe solely with my nose these few days!

My right nostril is still partially stuck from time to time though and hopefully it fully clears up in the next few weeks. Complete recovery is expected to take 1 - 2 months.

There‘s still minor numbness in my upper palate just behind my front teeth that’s supposed to be a side effect of the operation and will heal within a month or two.

My sleep in the last 3 days has been alot better too and I feel more energised upon waking.

Over time, I'll continue updating how this operation impacted my life and hopefully, you will find the courage and assurance to take this leap of faith by learning from my experience.

Take care now and breathe well!

era vs propnex

Stuart Chng, Senior Associate Executive Director of OrangeTee & Tie, is a renowned leader and personality in the real estate industry.

He adores music and can play a few instruments decently without upsetting his neighbours. When not doing so, he enjoys pillow fighting with his son and coming up with silly puns which barely amuses his wife.

Professionally, he is a licensed real estate agent, an avid stocks, options and real estate investor, business owner, team leader, speaker and columnist for several property newsletters and blogs and is often quoted in media interviews on 938FM, Channel 8, PropertyReport, PropertyGuru and other publications.

Throughout his career, he has helped many clients grow their wealth through selecting great property investments and managing their portfolios actively. Read his clients' reviews here.

Stuart has also coached many top million dollar producing agents from different real estate agencies in Singapore. Read his agents' reviews here.

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