What Can You Do About a Deviated Septum?

While playing his usual weekly game of pick up softball, Dan slid into home plate and was inadvertently whacked in the nose by the catcher. Initially, he suffered some bleeding and a blackened eye. But, over the next few months, he started to notice a bit of difficulty breathing through his right nostril. At first, he ignored it.

Over time, though, he noticed a persistent stuffiness in his nose. Finally, Dan made an appointment with his doctor who, after a brief physical exam, discovered that Dan had a deviated septum.

The Role of the Septum in Your Nose

A septum is any wall that divides 2 cavities. In the nose, the septum runs down the center and divides it into 2 separate chambers. The septum itself is made up of 2 parts. Toward the far back of the nose, the septum is hard bone. At the middle and towards the tip, it is made of cartilage—a tough, semi-flexible material.

Breathing Problems

Virtually no one has a perfectly straight or centered septum, and a slight deviation one way or the other is not usually problematic. However, if the septum protrudes too far to one side or the other, it can interfere with the movement of air into and out of, as well as the draining of mucus from, the nasal cavity. While a deviated septum can be the result of genetics, it can also be caused by trauma, such as a blow to the nose from an accident or while playing sports.

Symptoms of a Deviated Septum

Symptoms of a deviated septum include the following:

  • Breathing noisily during sleep
  • Chronically stuffy nose, in one or both nostrils
  • Sinus infections
  • Nosebleeds
  • Facial pain or headache

Treating a Deviated Septum

Although normally invisible from the exterior, diagnosis of a deviated septum can easily be determined by a brief examination of the interior of the nose by an ear, nose, and throat specialist (otolaryngologist). Recommended treatment will depend on the severity of the symptoms. Possible treatments include the following:

Medications

When the symptoms are minor (intermittent stuffy nose, minor snoring), treatment usually consists of antihistamines, nasal decongestants, and cortisone-containing nasal sprays. These medications can help to clear mucus and prevent congestion from building up in the nasal cavity. Medications may be over-the-counter or prescription.

Septoplasty

When symptoms become persistent and/or difficult to deal with, such as with chronic sinusitis, breathing problems, or extreme snoring, your doctor may recommend surgery to correct the deviated septum.

Surgery to correct a deviated septum is called septoplasty. As a rule, it is generally not done until after the age 18, when cartilage growth is complete.

During septoplasty, the doctor straightens the septum and repositions it. Sometimes the septum needs to be removed during the procedure in order to be repositioned. Tiny splints may be placed inside the nose to keep the septum in place while it heals.

Before deciding on surgery to correct a deviated septum, talk to your doctor about the possible severity of your symptoms, as well as the possibility of surgical complications.

RESOURCES:

American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery
http://www.aafprs.org
American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
http://www.entnet.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

References:

Acute sinusitis in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
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Updated May 14, 2015. Accessed January 20, 2016.
Chronic rhinosinusitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
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Updated July 17, 2015. Accessed January 20, 2016.
Fact sheet: deviated septum. American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery website. Available at:
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Accessed January 20, 2016.
Rhinoplasty overview. American Rhinologic Society website. Available at:
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Updated July 2011. Accessed January 20, 2016.
Septal deviation and perforation. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at:
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Updated October 2013. Accessed January 20, 2016.
Last reviewed January 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 1/20/2016

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