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 and its mucous membranes, and enables regular air flow. A deviated septum often develops as a result of an injury to the nose. This condition may cause one nasal passage to be smaller than the other, which can affect breathing if the difference is great enough. A deviated septum may also be the underlying cause of sinus problems, snoring or sleep apnea.
Causes of a Deviated Septum
In most cases, a deviated septum is caused by an injury to the nose that knocks the septum out of place. Nose injuries are often the result of car accidents or playing sports. Some deviated septa occur during fetal development.
Symptoms of a Deviated Septum
As a result of the uneven nasal passages caused by a deviated septum, a patient may have difficulty breathing. Additional symptoms may include:
- Nasal congestion
- Frequent sinus infections
This condition can also lead to facial pain, headaches and postnasal drip, which can significantly affect quality of life. A deviated septum may also cause snoring or sleep apnea. Those with only minor displacement may not even be aware of the deviated septum and experience no symptoms at all.
Diagnosis of a Deviated Septum
To diagnose a deviated symptom, a doctor will perform a thorough physical examination, and review all symptoms. In addition, an endoscopy may be performed. An endoscope and a bright light are used to open up the nostrils and nasal passages, enabling a thorough visual evaluation.
Treatment of a Deviated Septum
Treatment for a deviated septum varies depending on its severity and the symptoms it is causing. 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 septoplasty, which repositions the septum in the center of the nose. This procedure is often performed in conjunction with rhinoplasty, or nose-reshaping surgery, which enhances the appearance of the nose while correcting structural abnormalities. The results of septoplasty are permanent, but may take up to a year to become evident because the cartilage and bone of the septum tend to heal slowly.
Many people experience a significant lessening of symptoms post-surgery. Results, however, may vary depending on the severity of the deviation. In some cases, the septum may gradually shift over time, and patients may require a second septoplasty to once again relieve symptoms.