What is a Deviated Septum?
A deviated septum is a condition that develops when the nasal septum (the thin area of bone and cartilage that divides the nasal cavity of the nose in half) is significantly off-center or crooked. Most people have some degree of imbalance in their nasal passage, but a severe deviated septum can block one side of the nose and reduce airflow, causing breathing problems. The other side of the nose that may be larger can be subject to dryness, crusting and bleeding.
What Are the Causes and Symptoms of a Deviated Septum?
A deviated septum can happen at birth, sometimes stemming from the birthing process and it can happen due to injury or trauma to the nose. In children and adults, any number of accidents can cause a deviated septum, from tripping and falling to colliding with a person on the street. Injury and trauma to the nose often occurs during contact sports, active play, roughhousing, and vehicle accidents. The aging process can also affect the nasal structure, causing or worsening a deviated septum. Changes in the amount of swelling in the nasal passage and nasal tissue can also cause a narrowing of the nasal septum.
Those with a mild misalignment of the nasal passages will likely not notice any symptoms, and may not even know they have a deviated septum. The symptoms of a severe deviated septum include:
- Nasal obstruction of one or both nostrils. Obstruction can make breathing difficult through one or both of the nostrils. More frequent colds or allergies can make a deviated septum more noticeable when the nasal passages swell and narrow.
- Nosebleeds. The surface of the nasal septum can become dry and result in more frequent nosebleeds.
- Headaches. Swelling and inflammation in the nasal passages can cause congestion, which can lead to headaches.
- Facial pain. A deviated septum that causes a narrowing of the nasal wall is considered a cause of facial pain by some experts.
- Loud breathing and snoring during sleep. A constricted nasal passage due to a deviated septum can result in noisy breathing and snoring for adults and children.
- Awareness of the nasal cycle. If there is an obstruction in the nose, it is normal for the obstruction to alternate between sides. This is called the nasal cycle. It shouldn’t be noticeable, and when someone becomes aware of it, it may signal an abnormal amount of obstruction.
- Preference for sleeping on one side. Some of those with a deviated septum that has caused narrowing of the nasal passage on one side may find that it’s more comfortable to sleep on one side in particular.
If you experience any of the above symptoms, you may have a deviated septum. If you find that you have a blocked nostril that won’t respond to treatment, have frequent nosebleeds, or have recurring sinus infections, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor.
What to if you think you have a deviated septum
The first step after you suspect you have a deviated septum is to see your doctor. During your appointment, they will ask you about any symptoms you may be experiencing in order to properly diagnose you.
The doctor may also examine the inside of your nose using a bright light and possibly a nasal speculum to open your nostrils. They will be able to tell if you have nasal obstruction, swelling or narrowing of one or both sides of the nasal passages and whether you have a deviated septum and how serious it is.
The initial treatment for your deviated septum, depending on its level of severity, may involve reducing and managing your symptoms that can affect nasal obstruction, nasal tissue and drainage. These symptom-managing treatments include:
- Decongestants. Decongestant medication can reduce nasal tissue swelling and help to keep the airways open on both sides of the septum. Frequent or long-term use of a decongestant can create dependency and actually worsen symptoms after they are stopped. They also have a stimulating effect and can cause you to be jittery.
- Antihistamines. Antihistamines help prevent allergy symptoms like a runny nose and obstruction. They can sometimes help with cold symptoms that aren’t allergy-related. Some antihistamine medication can cause drowsiness.
- Nasal steroid sprays. Nasal corticosteroid sprays are given by prescription and reduce the amount of inflammation in the nasal passage, improving obstruction and drainage.
It is important to note that these medications are only temporary solutions. They may temporarily treat the swollen mucus membranes but they do not correct a deviated septum.
What Are the Treatment Options for a Deviated Septum?
The only true treatment for a deviated septum is surgery, called a septoplasty. A septoplasty is a common and effective method for correcting and repairing a deviated septum. During a septoplasty, the nasal septum is straightened and repositioned in the center of the nose. It may require cutting and removing parts of the septum before reinserting parts in the proper position. A septoplasty can correct nasal obstruction, swollen and inflamed nasal tissue and difficulty breathing that can come as a result of a deviated septum. Symptoms typically resolve completely after a septoplasty procedure.
Visit La Peer Health System to Learn More About Deviated Septum Treatments
La Peer Health Systems is an outpatient treatment center that is home to some of the world’s top renowned surgeons and specialists. We are proud to offer high quality patient care and a wide array of procedures for children, adolescents and adults. If you or a loved one has a deviated septum and it is affecting their quality of life, get in touch with our Nasal Surgery department by calling (855) 360-9119 or through our online contact form. Receive more information about our treatment options for deviated septum and to schedule your obligation-free consultation.