A deviated septum is a common condition. It’s estimated that up to 80% of people have a nasal septum that’s off-centre. A deviated septum is when the nasal passage cartilage is either crooked or uneven. This makes one side narrower than the other. Most people living with this condition don’t need any form of intervention. A majority of them don’t show any symptoms. So, how do you know if you need deviated septum surgery?
What is a Deviated Septum?
The nasal septum is the thin bone and cartilage wall that separates the nostrils. If this wall is way off the centre, a deviated septum occurs. This makes one nasal passage narrower than the other. You are either born with a deviated septum or pick one up through an injury. A deviated septum isn’t a medical emergency unless it causes health issues or negatively impacts your life.
When the deviated septum is so severe, it can block one side of the nose. This results in difficulty breathing. This misalignment leads to over-exposure and a drying effect of airflow. The result is crusting and sometimes bleeding.
A deviated septum can also cause swelling of the surrounding tissues. This can lead to congestion or obstruction and sometimes nasal blockage. Nasal obstruction is usually treated through medication to reduce the swelling.
Minor Deviated Septum
You can have a deviated septum and have mild or no symptoms at all. With only a minor deviation, you’re unlikely to experience symptoms. The more severe the deviated septum, the more severe symptoms you usually have. A more severe deviated septum could impact your breathing, cause headaches, and increase infections.
What Causes a Deviated Septum?
You can be born with a deviated septum. For some people, a deviated septum develops in the womb and is noticeable at birth. But if it’s not present at birth, then the most likely cause would be an injury. If you have an injury or trauma that causes the nasal septum to move out of its position, this could cause a deviated septum.
For infants, sometimes an injury can occur during birth. So, although it’s present at birth, it’s actually caused by an injury rather than developing in the womb. Deviated septum causes also include a range of injuries, but it’s most commonly from contact sports like rugby and wrestling or car accidents. Ageing can also worsen deviated septum symptoms over time.
Deviated Septum Symptoms
You can have no symptoms at all of a deviated septum to mild and even severe. When a deviated septum is more severe, it may affect your breathing, increase headaches, and lead to infections.
How to Tell if You Have a Deviated Septum
Deviated septum symptoms include:
- Dry mouth
- Awareness of nasal breathing
- Facial pain or pressure
- Sleep apnoea
5 Signs That You May Need Deviated Septum Surgery
Usually, a deviated septum causes no symptoms. If you start experiencing the following symptoms, it may be time to consider deviated septum surgery.
1. Breathing Difficulties
A deviated septum can cause the narrowing of one nasal cavity. This leads to breathing difficulties, most noticeable at night when you are sleeping. The problem can also interfere with your breathing during sports activities and exercise. When that happens, you end up overcompensating with persistent breathing through the mouth. This can dry and irritate your mouth lining, which can damage your teeth.
2. Frequent Nosebleeds
Nosebleeds are normal in some people when they occur once in a while. They only become a problem when they happen a lot. If you start noticing frequent nosebleeds, it may be time to check with your doctor.
3. Constant Headaches
Headaches come and go, and sometimes they mean nothing. If you start to experience constant headaches that are unbearable, you need to see a doctor. A deviated septum causes severe facial pain that causes migraines. These migraines usually originate from the nasal area. This is due to the straining of the nasal cavity muscles leading to physical tension.
4. Repeat Sinus Infections And Other Nasal Disorders
Do you ever feel like you’re always experiencing colds and post-nasal drips? These may be signs of a deviated septum. Others include a frequent runny nose and sneezing. Conditions like sinusitis and rhinitis all point to a misshapen nasal cavity. Some people brush them off as allergies. These symptoms may end up affecting your quality of life.
5. Snoring Or Worsening Sleep Apnea
A deviated septum can lead to snoring every night. It can also cause sleep apnea, a serious condition where you stop breathing when you are sleeping. The condition can be life-threatening, which is why a visit to the doctor is necessary.
You may wake up with a dry mouth from chronic mouth breathing. Although there can be many causes of dry mouth, it could be a sign that you have to breathe through your mouth more than needed because of nasal issues.
Just because a deviated septum doesn’t make you snore, doesn’t mean you don’t have one. You may experience one or a handful of deviated septum symptoms. The best way to diagnose a deviated septum is through a physical exam from your doctor or specialist.
A deviated septum is, in most cases, nothing to worry about as there are usually no symptoms. But if it’s affecting your quality of life and day-to-day activities, you may want to speak to a doctor who can formulate a treatment plan for you.
What Happens if You Don’t Fix a Deviated Septum?
Some people have a mild nasal septum misalignment that most don’t even know about. Others have noticeable signs of septum deviation and look into permanent treatment options to ensure they don’t live with discomfort and pain their entire life. In its milder form, a deviated septum poses no serious health complications. However, more severe cases can lead to recurring sinus infections, nosebleeds, and headaches. If you have breathing problems or uncomfortable symptoms, a surgical procedure to fix a deviated septum may be an option.
A deviated septum isn’t a condition that typically dissipates on its own. If left untreated, there is an increased risk of it worsening and causing life-threatening complications. People with a deviated septum can experience frequent sinus infections. Chronic sinus infections usually lead to chronic irritation and inflammation of the nasal passage, resulting in other serious infections like eye and brain infections. Although rare, an untreated sinus infection can travel to the brain and affect the tissue surrounding the brain leading to life-threatening complications like brain damage and seizures.
An untreated deviated septum can worsen or cause a condition called sleep apnea. Sleep apnea occurs when one temporarily stops breathing when sleeping. People with severe sleep apnea can temporarily stop breathing multiple times in their sleep. When someone stops breathing, the brain and the other crucial body organs, like the heart and lungs, don’t get enough oxygen to function optimally. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common and occurs when airways become blocked due to an untreated deviated septum.
Sleep apnea can lead to conditions like stroke, heart failure, high blood pressure, heart attacks, headaches and diabetes. In addition to sleep apnea and chronic sinus infections, leaving a deviated septum can also increase your risk of experiencing headaches, nosebleeds, nasal obstructions and facial pain.
Diagnosis: How Do You Know if You Have a Deviated Septum?
To determine if you have a deviated septum, your doctor will first ask about any symptoms you have. Next, they will examine the inside of your nose using a bright light to inspect the area. Sometimes, they may use a tool to spread open the nostrils. Following the exam, your doctor will be able to diagnose a deviated septum and also discuss the severity of the condition.
In mild cases with no symptoms, you likely won’t need deviated septum surgery to fix the problem. But if you have breathing problems and more severe symptoms, then your doctor may recommend septoplasty.
Deviated Septum Treatment: What Happens During Deviated Septum Surgery?
A deviated septum can’t heal on its own. The treatment you need will vary depending on the severity of the condition.
If a deviated septum causes symptoms that affect your quality of life, you may require surgery to straighten the nose, known as septoplasty. You can combine septoplasty and rhinoplasty to fix a deviated septum and improve the appearance of the nose at the same time. Rhinoplasty continues to be in the top 5 cosmetic procedures for men and women in the UK, and for a good reason. Whether you have a deviated septum or don’t like the size or shape of the nose, rhinoplasty can have a big impact on the look and balance of the overall face.
Septoplasty is a surgical procedure to fix a deviated septum. It aims to straighten the nose and cartilage in the septum.
If you combine septoplasty and rhinoplasty, the procedure is called septorhinoplasty. Essentially it combines fixing a deviated septum with altering the shape of the nose or removing any bumps. If you have breathing problems and visible issues on the nose, then you may be suitable for this procedure.
Following septoplasty, your nose may feel swollen and sore for a few weeks. At this point, breathing through your nose may be uncomfortable or impossible. But be patient. After a few days, you should be feeling much better. In about 3-4 weeks, you should be able to resume normal activities. Most people recover fully in a few months.
Here’s a general guideline of what to expect from deviated septum surgery:
- 3-5 days – should be able to resume working from a straightforward septum repair surgery
- 7-10 days – should be able to resume working from a septorhinoplasty procedure.
- 1-2 months – any numbness of the nose tip or loss of smell should return after a couple of months.
The exact procedure and the technique your plastic surgeon uses will depend on the individual case of each patient.
What are the Possible Risks and Effects of Deviated Septum Surgery?
While correcting a deviated septum has many life-changing benefits like better breathing, fewer sinus infections and reduced risk of sleep apnea, the surgery had potential risks and complications, including:
- Increased infection risks
- Excessive bleeding
- Bad anaesthesia reactions
- Slight hole or tear in the septum
In some cases, you might continue having symptoms of sinusitis until the infection clears up. If there were blockages, like polyps, you might have lingering drainage and breathing issues. Some people also report problems with their sense of smell following the procedure. The risks are rare, though, and your doctor will talk to you about them and address any concerns you may have before the surgery.
What is Recovery Like After Deviated Septum Surgery?
The procedure is performed on an outpatient basis, and you get to go home the same day after the surgery. There’s no need for hospital stays unless you develop other serious complications, which is rare. You will need to have someone drive you home after the surgery since you’ll still be experiencing the effects of anaesthesia.
Once you get home, certain measures need to be implemented to speed up your recovery. For instance, avoid any heavy lifting or activities that might lead to you putting pressure on your face. Also, sleep with your head raised; you can use an extra pillow. Finally, avoid blowing your nose. You will need to take some time off work and may return to normal activities in about 3 weeks. Recovery typically takes about 1 to 2 months.
How to Fix a Deviated Septum Without Surgery?
The truth is that the only way to really “fix” a deviated septum is through a successful surgery. However, depending on your condition, there may be alternatives you can try before undergoing septoplasty. Deciding to have surgery is a big choice and some patients do try to find some relief without deviated septum surgery.
Typically, nasal obstruction is made worse by allergies or infections. So, staying on top of allergies may help improve your breathing through your nose. Allergy medications or nasal sprays may provide some relief. Other options can include nasal strips, a humidifier, and avoiding irritants that cause nasal congestion.
While all these things may help to improve breathing, surgery is the most effective treatment for a deviated septum.