What is a deviated septum?
A deviated septum occurs when the thin wall (nasal septum) between your nasal passages is displaced to one side. In many people, the nasal septum is displaced — or deviated — making one nasal passage smaller.
When a deviated septum is severe, it can block one side of your nose and reduce airflow, causing difficulty breathing. The additional exposure of a deviated septum to the drying effect of airflow through the nose may sometimes contribute to crusting or bleeding in certain individuals.
Nasal obstruction can occur from a deviated nasal septum, from swelling of the tissues lining the nose, or from both. Treatment of nasal obstruction may include medications to reduce the swelling or nasal dilators that help open the nasal passages. To correct a deviated septum, surgery is necessary.
How common is a deviated septum?
A deviated septum is extremely common. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of a deviated septum?
The common symptoms of a deviated septum are:
- Obstruction of one or both nostrils. This obstruction can make it difficult to breathe through the nostril or nostrils. This may be more noticeable when you have a cold (upper respiratory tract infection) or allergies that can cause your nasal passages to swell and narrow.
- The surface of your nasal septum may become dry, increasing your risk of nosebleeds.
- Facial pain. Though there is some debate about the possible nasal causes of facial pain, a severe deviated septum that impacts the inside nasal wall, when on the same side as one-sided facial pain, is sometimes considered a possible cause.
- Noisy breathing during sleep. This can occur in infants and young children with a deviated septum or with swelling of the intranasal tissues.
- Awareness of the nasal cycle. It is normal for the nose to alternate being obstructed on one side, then changing to being obstructed on the other. This is called the nasal cycle. The nasal cycle is a normal phenomenon, but being aware of the nasal cycle is unusual and can be an indication that there is an abnormal amount of nasal obstruction.
- Preference for sleeping on a particular side. Some people may prefer to sleep on a particular side in order to optimize breathing through the nose at night. This can be due to a deviated septum that narrows one nasal passage.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:
- A blocked nostril (or nostrils) that doesn’t respond to treatment
- Frequent nosebleeds
- Recurring sinus infections
What causes a deviated septum?
A deviated septum occurs when your nasal septum — the thin wall that separates your right and left nasal passages — is displaced to one side.
A deviated septum can be caused by:
- A condition present at birth. In some cases, a deviated septum occurs during fetal development and is apparent at birth.
- Injury to the nose. A deviated septum can also be the result of an injury that causes the nasal septum to be moved out of position. In infants, such an injury may occur during childbirth. In children and adults, a wide array of accidents may lead to a nose injury and deviated septum — from tripping on a step to colliding with another person on the sidewalk. Trauma to the nose most commonly occurs during contact sports, active play or roughhousing, or automobile accidents.
- The normal aging process may affect nasal structures, worsening a deviated septum over time. Also, changes in the amount of swelling of nasal tissues, because of developing rhinitis or rhinosinusitis, can accentuate the narrowing of a nasal passage from a deviated septum, resulting in nasal obstruction.
What increases my risk for a deviated septum?
There are many risk factors for a deviated septum, such as:
- Playing contact sports
- Not wearing your seat belt while riding in a motorized vehicle
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is a deviated septum diagnosed?
To diagnose a deviated septum, your doctor first examines your nostrils with a nasal speculum. The doctor checks the septum’s placement and how it impacts the size of the nostrils. The doctor will also ask questions about sleep, snoring, sinus problems, and difficulty breathing.
How is a deviated septum treated?
Initial treatment of a deviated septum may be directed at managing the symptoms of the tissues lining the nose, which may then contribute to symptoms of nasal obstruction and drainage. Your doctor may prescribe:
- Decongestants are medications that reduce nasal tissue swelling, helping to keep the airways on both sides of your nose open. Decongestants are available as a pill or as a nasal spray. Use nasal sprays with caution, however. Frequent and continued use can create dependency and cause symptoms to be worse (rebound) after you stop using them. Decongestants have a stimulant effect and may cause you to be jittery as well as elevate your blood pressure and heart rate.
- Antihistamines are medications that help prevent allergy symptoms, including obstruction and runny nose. They can also sometimes help nonallergic conditions such as those occurring with a cold. Some antihistamines cause drowsiness and can affect your ability to perform tasks that require physical coordination, such as driving.
- Nasal steroid sprays. Prescription nasal corticosteroid sprays can reduce inflammation in your nasal passage and help with obstruction or drainage. It usually takes from one to three weeks for steroid sprays to reach their maximal effect, so it is important to follow your doctor’s directions in using them.
Medications only treat the swollen mucus membranes and won’t correct a deviated septum.
Surgical repair (septoplasty)
If you still experience symptoms despite medical therapy, you may consider surgery to correct your deviated septum (septoplasty).
Septoplasty is the usual way to repair a deviated septum. During septoplasty, your nasal septum is straightened and repositioned in the center of your nose. This may require your surgeon to cut and remove parts of your septum before reinserting them in the proper position.
The level of improvement you can expect with surgery depends on the severity of your deviation. Symptoms due to the deviated septum — particularly nasal obstruction — often completely resolve. However, any accompanying nasal or sinus conditions affecting the tissues lining your nose — such as allergies — can’t be cured with only surgery.
Reshaping your nose
In some cases, surgery to reshape the nose (rhinoplasty) is performed at the same time as septoplasty. Rhinoplasty involves modifying the bone and cartilage of your nose to change its shape or size or both.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage deviated septum?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with a deviated septum:
- Wear a helmet or a midface mask when playing contact sports, such as football and volleyball.
- Wear a seat belt when riding in a motorized vehicle.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: July 6, 2017 | Last Modified: December 6, 2019
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