What is a deviated septum?
The nasal septum is the cartilage and bone in your nose. The septum divides the nasal cavity (inside your nose) into a right and left side. When the septum is off-center or leans to one side of the nasal cavity, it has “deviated.” Healthcare providers call this a deviated nasal septum.
What happens if I have a deviated septum?
If you have a minor deviated septum, you may have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. If your deviated septum is more severe, it may affect your breathing, cause headaches or lead to infections.
How common are deviated septums?
Deviated septums are very common. Healthcare professionals estimate that up to 80% of people have a deviated septum.
Symptoms and Causes
What causes a deviated septum?
An injury to the nose can cause a deviated septum. Nasal injuries may occur due to:
- Car accidents.
- Getting hit in the nose during an accident or fight.
A deviated septum may also be congenital, or present at birth. The deviation may be from a difficult birth or connective tissue disease.
It may also be a result of normal development. As the nose grows, the septum also grows and can sometimes grow towards one side. This is typically the most common reason to have a deviated septum.
What are the symptoms of a deviated septum?
People with a severely deviated septum may have a change in the shape of their nose.
Other deviated septum symptoms include:
Difficulty breathing on one or both sides of the nose.
Diagnosis and Tests
How is a deviated septum diagnosed?
A healthcare provider will begin by asking questions about your symptoms. They will perform a physical exam, including a close examination of your nose. They will look at the outside of your nose. They also look inside your nose by shining a bright light into your nostrils. You may see a specialist, such as an ear, nose and throat (ENT) healthcare provider or a plastic surgeon.
Management and Treatment
How is a deviated septum treated?
Most people don’t need deviated septum treatment because they have no symptoms or their symptoms are mild.
Treatment for a deviated septum is a surgery called a septoplasty. If you have breathing problems, frequent sinus infections or other bothersome symptoms, a septoplasty may be an option for you.
Who is a candidate for a septoplasty?
If your deviated septum symptoms are severe, you may be a candidate for a septoplasty. To decide what’s best, your healthcare provider will evaluate your:
- Risk factors.
- Pre-existing conditions.
- Previous surgeries.
- Alcohol, drug and tobacco use.
What happens during a septoplasty?
A septoplasty is usually a one to two hour outpatient procedure. You go home the same day.
There are three main steps of a septoplasty:
- Anesthesia: Your surgeon uses local and general anesthesia to make sure you’re comfortable. Local anesthesia numbs the area. General anesthesia puts you to sleep during the procedure.
- Repair: Your surgeon separates the membrane that covers the septum. Then the surgeon removes the cartilage and bone that is deviated. Your surgeon then replaces the membranes and sutures them together with stitches.
- Bandaging: Your surgeon may pack your nose with gauze. You may also have bandages on the outside of your nose, depending on your surgery.
Most surgeons perform a septoplasty through the nose. Sometimes a surgeon also performs sinus surgery (to open the sinuses) or a rhinoplasty (a “nose job,” which reshapes the nose). The type of surgery depends on your healthcare provider’s recommendation.
What will my recovery be like?
If you have outpatient surgery as most people do, you will go home the same day. Your nose may be sore, bruised and swollen for a couple weeks. Breathing through your nose may be uncomfortable or impossible during this time. Your healthcare provider may prescribe medicine for pain and to help prevent infection.
Most people fully recover within a few months. Your surgeon will tell you what to expect.
Can I prevent a deviated septum?
Some people are born with a deviated septum. It can’t be prevented.
If you don’t have a deviated septum at birth, you can take steps to reduce your risk of injury. You can protect your nose by:
- Using a face mask or helmet during sports.
- Wearing your seat belt.
- Avoiding high-contact sports.
Outlook / Prognosis
What is the outlook for people with a deviated septum?
For most people, a deviated septum does not cause problems. If you do have difficult symptoms, a septoplasty may be the right option for you.
Most people who have surgery experience relief from symptoms. Occasionally, the septum will deviate again. In that case, healthcare providers can perform another septoplasty.
How do I take care of myself with a deviated septum?
Your healthcare provider may recommend over-the-counter medicine to relieve congestion, headache or face pain. Speak with your healthcare provider to get their advice on your specific needs.
When should I see my healthcare provider?
If you have difficulty breathing or symptoms that affect your quality of life, see your healthcare provider. They can perform an exam to determine if you have a deviated septum and, if so, how severe it is.
What should I ask my healthcare provider?
During your appointment, ask your provider:
- Do you think I have a deviated septum?
- If I do have a deviated septum, how severe is it?
- Could something else be causing my nasal congestion or other symptoms?
- Do you recommend surgery?
- Am I a good candidate for surgery?
- What are the risks of surgery?
- What can I expect during and after surgery?
- How long will it take me to recover?
- What do you think my result will be?
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A deviated septum is a common condition. Most people have mild or no symptoms. If you have bothersome symptoms such as difficulty breathing, congestion, headaches, face pain and snoring, talk to your healthcare provider. Relief may be possible.