While there are products that can be used to improve nighttime breathing that may be related to a deviated septum, these are only temporary solutions.
Made of bone and cartilage and lined with mucus membranes, the septum is the structure that divides the nose. It’s also responsible for providing structural support for the nose. If the septum extends too far in one direction or the other, it’s referred to as a deviated septum.
- Many people actually have one side of the nose that’s smaller without having any problems at all. It’s when the deviation is severe that airflow may be blocked.
- Treatment will depend on the severity of a deviated septum and how it’s affecting daily functioning.
What Causes a Deviated Septum?
A septum may become deviated during the fetal development process and be present at birth (congenital). It’s also possible for the nasal septum to shift out of place following an injury, as may be the case with a hard impact from contact sports. Tripping or sustaining physical damage from an automobile accident may also contribute to the problem. A septum can also be affected by age-related changes to nasal structures and conditions like hay fever or chronic sinusitis.
Many people have an abnormal nasal septum that produces little or no noticeable symptoms. However, a more prominent deviation may make it difficult to breathe through one or both nostrils. In some instances, symptoms may become more problematic with seasonal colds or allergies. Some people develop the habit of mouth breathing to compensate for restricted airflow, which can contribute to dry mouth and sleep difficulties. Symptoms may also include:
- Frequent nosebleeds
- Facial pain
- Noisy breathing, especially while sleeping
- A feeling of having a constantly stuffed nose
- Recurring sinus infections
How Is a Deviated Septum Diagnosed and Treated?
An ENT doctor may use an instrument called a nasal speculum to spread the nostrils to get a better idea of the extent of the deviation. A long, lighted tube may also be inserted into the nose to view structures in greater detail. Initial treatment usually involves efforts to manage symptoms and minimize tissue swelling that may be contributing to the problem. Options include:
- Decongestants to reduce nasal swelling
- Antihistamine to control allergy and hay fever symptoms
- Prescription nasal corticosteroid sprays to ease inflammation
When Is Surgery Necessary?
If symptoms are severe and other efforts to restore sufficient airflow aren’t effective, surgery may be recommended to correct a deviated septum. The procedure is referred to as septoplasty. During the operation, the nasal septum is repositioned and straightened. Where the incision is made will depend on what specific part of the septum is deviated. The mucous membrane is lifted out of place as the septum is realigned. It is then put back into place with stitches, splints, or packing materials.
What Happens During Recovery?
It is possible to have other issues with a deviated septum if there are abnormalities in another location that weren’t corrected during the original procedure. Most patients, however, respond well to surgery. In the first few days after surgery, packing material is usually left in place to prevent nosebleeds and minimize drainage. Antibiotics are typically prescribed to reduce infection risks. Most patients can resume their normal activities after the initial healing period.
The only way to prevent a deviated septum that’s not present at birth is to take precautions to minimize the risk of facial impacts. This includes wearing proper protective gear when playing sports and using a seat belt when driving or riding in a moving vehicle.
You’ll benefit more from an evaluation by an ear, nose, and throat specialist who can determine the extent of the problem and recommend a more permanent remedy.