A deviated septum is characterized by the nasal septum being further on one side of the nose rather than centered. The nasal septum is made of bone and cartilage which forms a wall that separates the nostrils, dividing them into two. This constructs the left and right airways which facilitates breathing through our nose. For optimal airflow, the nasal septum should be centered, creating even nostrils. Though the nasal septum is slightly off-center for most people, this minor deviation is not particularly noticeable or impactful. When the septum is significantly situated on one side compared to the other, it is referred to as a deviated septum. This results in expanding one airway and restricting the other which can produce various symptoms that impact breathing and overall health.
Causes & Symptoms
Deviated septums can be caused in two main ways:
- Birth: some people are born with a deviated septum. Being present at birth means that the deviated septum happened during fetal development.
- Injuries: septums can become deviated through accidental injuries. Brute force and trauma to the nose can alter the nasal septum. Common injuries that can produce this occur through contact sports, car accidents, and falling.
The most common symptom of a deviated septum is nasal congestion which affects airflow through the nasal passageways. Other symptoms include the following:
- Difficulty breathing
- Sinus infections
- Nose bleeds
- Facial pain
- Postnasal drip
- Loud breathing or snoring throughout sleep
- Poor quality sleep
- Sleep disorders
These symptoms can take a toll on sleep and daily wellness especially if experienced chronically. Experiencing a common cold or seasonal allergies can also worsen these symptoms. If you experience difficulty breathing and other symptoms recurring, it is important to see your healthcare provider who can assess your deviated septum and recommend effective treatment options.
Symptoms produced by a deviated septum can be alleviated with medications. However, if symptoms persist and are experienced chronically, the most effective treatment option could be corrective surgery.
- Medications: typically, if symptoms are mild and/or occur acutely, they can be treated through medications including:
- Decongestants: alleviate nasal congestion. This reduces the inflammation of nasal tissue which allows the nasal passageways to open up, allowing better airflow.
- Antihistamines: also provide relief from congestion as well as other symptoms commonly associated with allergies – runny nose, watery eyes, difficulty breathing etc. – which can heighten deviated septum symptoms.
- Nasal spray: prescribed by a doctor, nasal steroid sprays alleviate swelling and inflammation. This expands nasal pathways and supports airflow.
When deviated septums are highly crooked or significantly deviated, symptoms can be severe and recurring which is a sign that you should be evaluated by a doctor.
- Septoplasty: having your deviated septum examined by your healthcare provider involves your doctor using a nasal speculum to expand the nostrils so they can take a closer look at the nasal septum, tissue, and pathways. Your doctor can refer you to a specialist for further examination. This may include seeing an ENT (ear, nose, throat) doctor who could recommend septoplasty. This procedure involves a surgeon making a small incision in the nose and removing excess bone or cartilage. This helps realign the nasal septum, moving it into a centered position. Rhinoplasty is often combined with septoplasty to adjust the outer appearance of the nose.
Tips for Prevention
The only way people can develop a deviated septum is through injury. So the best way to reduce one’s risk is to integrate and practice safety measures! This includes:
- Wearing protective gear while participating in sports
- Adhering to road safety rules and laws as well as always wearing a seatbelt
- Wearing safety gear while riding a bike or other forms of transportation
It is estimated that nearly 80% of people’s nasal septum is off-center. This typically is not noticeable or particularly disruptive. But deviated septums that are more significant can cause chronic symptoms that can take a toll – affecting breathing, sleeping, and health. If symptoms cannot be managed through medication, it is important to consult with your doctor. Treating a deviated septum can drastically improve daily well-being by enhancing sleep and airflow. Better sleep and the capacity to breathe with greater ease provide more energy which is necessary to navigate daily life.