A deviated septum is a common condition that involves a displacement of the septum, the wall that separates the nostrils, to one side of the nose. In adults, the septum is made of cartilage and bone, and helps to support the nose, regular air flow and support the mucous membranes of the nose. About 80 percent of people have a deviated septum, which often develops as a result of an injury to the nose. This condition makes one nasal passage smaller than the other, which can affect breathing if the displacement is great enough.
In most cases, a deviated septum occurs as a result of an injury to the nose that knocks the septum out of place. This may occur after a car accident, direct sports contact or from tripping or falling on an object. Some patients are born with a deviated septum that occurred during fetal development.
Patients with a severe deviated septum may experience nasal congestion, nosebleeds and frequent or recurring sinus infections as a result of their uneven nasal passages. Difficulty breathing and other symptoms are usually worse on one side of the nose than the other. This condition can also lead to facial pain, headaches and postnasal drip, which can significantly affect a patient’s quality of life. Those with only minor displacement may not even be aware that they have a deviated septum and experience no symptoms.
A deviated septum can be diagnosed through a simple physical exam in which a speculum and bright light open up the nostrils to allow for a thorough visual evaluation. Your doctor will also ask about your symptoms
Treatment for a deviated septum can vary depending on the severity of the condition and the symptoms associated. For most patients, this condition can be managed through decongestants and antihistamines that aim to reduce nasal congestion. For more severe cases, surgery may be required to correct the displacement. Surgery involves a procedure called a septoplasty to reposition the septum in the center of the nose. This procedure is often performed in conjunction with rhinoplasty, or nose reshaping surgery, to resculpt the appearance of the nose while correcting structural abnormalities.
During the septoplasty procedure, an endoscope is inserted into the nose to provide visual access to the septum. The surgeon makes a small incision in the septum to separate the mucosa and adjust the underlying bone and cartilage to reposition it in the center of the nose. The mucosa is then replaced over the septum. This procedure is performed under local or general anesthesia and usually takes 60 to 90 minutes on an outpatient basis.
Results and Recovery from Surgery
After septoplasty, patients will likely experience bleeding, swelling, bruising and discoloration. These side effects are considered normal and will subside on their own within a few days. Your doctor will provide you with pain medication to manage symptoms. Splints will likely be inserted in the nostrils for the first few days after surgery in order to support the treated septum.
It is important for patients to avoid strenuous activity, such as jogging and aerobics, for several weeks after surgery. You should also avoid blowing your nose and pulling clothing over your head.
The results of the septoplasty procedure are permanent, but may take up to a year to become evident, as the cartilage and bone of the septum tend to heal slowly. Many people experience significant improvements to the symptoms caused by their deviated septum. Results may vary depending on the severity of the deviation. In some cases, the tissue may gradually move again over time and patients may require a second septoplasty procedure in order to once again relieve symptoms.
Risks of Surgery
Although septoplasty is considered a safe procedure, there are certain risks associated with any type of surgery. These may include bleeding, infection, septal perforation and scarring. Some patients may not be able to achieve effective symptom relief from this procedure. Your doctor will discuss the risks of septoplasty, as well as answer any questions or concerns you may have prior to surgery.