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What is Deviated Septum?
A deviated septum is a condition in which the nasal septum the bone and cartilage that divide the nasal cavity of the nose in half is significantly off center, or crooked, making breathing difficult. Most people have some sort of imbalance in the size of their breathing passages. In fact, estimates indicate that 80% of people, most unknowingly, have some sort of misalignment to their nasal septum. Only the more severe imbalances cause significant breathing problems and require treatment.
What are the symptoms of Deviated Septum?
A deviated septum may not cause any problems in some people. When a deviated septum does cause symptoms, they may include:
- Difficulty breathing through the nose
- Nasal congestion, usually one side more than the other
- Recurrent sinus infections
- Sleep problems, such as loud snoring or sleep apnea
- Headache postnasal drip
Causes of 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.
Diagnosis of Deviated Septum
After reviewing your symptoms, the doctor will ask you whether you have ever broken or severely injured your nose and whether you have ever had nasal surgery. Your doctor will look at your nose and the position of your nasal septum. Your doctor will use a bright light and a nasal speculum (an instrument that gently spreads open your nostril) to inspect the inside surface of each nostril. The lining tissues of the nose may be temporarily shrunken by use of Afrin or Neosynephrine nasal spray to get a better look at the entire septum. Sometimes a fiberoptic scope will be inserted in the nose to look at the posterior septum directly. In most cases, you will not need any special tests.
If your deviated septum is causing troublesome nosebleeds, repeated sinus infections or other significant problems, then your primary care doctor will refer you to an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist) or plastic surgeon for treatment.
Prevention of Deviated Septum
You can help to prevent a deviated septum by avoiding injury to your nose. To do this, wear seat belts and shoulder harnesses whenever you ride in a car and wear well-fitting headgear to protect your face during contact sports, such as football or karate.
Deviated Septum Treatments
Sometimes symptoms of a deviated septum can be relieved with medications. If medicine alone doesn’t offer adequate relief, a surgical procedure called septoplasty may be needed to repair a crooked septum and improve breathing.
Deviated Septum Surgery
During septoplasty, a surgeon, working through the inside of the nose, makes a small incision in the septum and then removes the excess bone or cartilage required to even out the breathing space of the nostrils.