Many of us have heard the term deviated septum, but unless faced with the sometimes life-altering symptoms of this condition, few really delve into learning about it. Considering the fact that about 80% of people have some sort of misalignment of their nasal septum—usually without their knowledge—it’s worth looking into a little further.
What is it? First, let’s define septum: The nasal septum refers to the bone and cartilage that divide the nose into two chambers. A deviated septum is the condition that occurs when this divider is crooked or significantly off-center.
How does it happen? Some people are born with a deviated septum—it can occur during birth as the baby travels through the birth canal. Others can experience a deviated septum as the result of an injury or trauma to the nose.
What are the symptoms? The most common symptom of a deviated septum is nasal congestion—often with one side being more congested than the other. Other symptoms include:
- Headaches and facial pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Recurrent or repeated sinus infections
- Postnasal drip
- Snoring and loud breathing
A deviated septum can also lead to sleep apnea, a serious condition in which a person stops breathing while sleeping.
How is a deviated septum treated? Sometimes this condition can be treated with medication. However, if medication alone doesn’t offer significant relief, doctors can perform a minor surgical procedure called a septoplasty to repair the deviated septum and improve breathing.
In a typical septoplasty, the surgeon makes an incision on one side of the nose to access the septum. Next, the surgeon lifts up the mucous membrane that covers the septum and moves the deviated septum into the correct position. Any barriers or obstructions such as extra pieces of bone or cartilage are removed and the mucous membrane is repositioned. The nose is then packed with cotton to hold the adjusted septum in place.
This procedure takes anywhere from 30-90 minutes and is generally performed on an outpatient basis using local or general anesthesia depending on the complexity of the condition and your surgeon’s recommendations.