The human nose is divided into two airway passages by a partition made of bone and cartilage call the septum.
The septum runs from the tip of the nose to the back of the nose, ideally, in a straight orientation that divides the nasal passages evenly.
When the septum is curved, off-center or crooked, the condition is referred to as a deviated septum. If the deviation is serious enough, it can cause breathing difficulties and chronic sinus conditions that require treatment.
It’s estimated that about 80 percent of the population has a septum that is off-center to some extent. Usually, the deviation is slight and goes unnoticed; only the worst cases typically produce symptoms that affect breathing.
Symptoms of a deviated septum can include difficulty breathing, nasal congestion, nose bleeds, headaches, and an increased risk of sinus infections due to poor drainage.
Additional symptoms include difficulty sleeping, sleep apnea, snoring, pain, and a loss of smell. If the drainage is blocked it can back up in the sinuses and cause sinusitis.
If you have a deviated septum, you may favor breathing through your mouth. Mouth breathing is unhealthy for numerous reasons. It affects the oxygen concentration in your blood and is associated with high blood pressure and heart failure. Mouth breathing decreases lung function and can worsen respiratory illnesses and asthma. Children who have mouth breathing are more likely to have dental problems like malocclusion and facial differences. Mouth breathing also causes bad breath and dries out the mouth creating the risk of cavities, gum disease, and hoarseness.
Most often, a deviated septum is a condition that occurs during birth or fetal development. In other cases, trauma or injury to the nose causes the displacement. This is frequently the result of a sports injury or automobile accident. Occasionally, cartilage in the nasal tip deteriorates as we age, producing a deviated septum.
A physical examination of the nose by an ENT is typically all that’s needed to identify a deviated septum.
If the deviated septum is not too severe, symptoms may respond to treatment with medications. Antihistamines, decongestants, and nasal steroid sprays can reduce congestion and inflammation in some patients.
When medicines are ineffective, a surgical procedure may be necessary to reposition a crooked septum and improve breathing. This involves removing excess bone or cartilage to create a larger breathing space and is typically performed in an outpatient setting using local or general anesthesia.
A rhinoplasty – surgery to reshape the nose – is often pursued at the same time