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Know the Signs and Symptoms of a Deviated Septum

As we continue to trudge through cold and flu season, you may experience a dreaded stuffy nose or sinus pressure. But if you just can’t seem to kick the congestion, you may have a deviated septum.

What Is a Deviated Septum?

A deviated septum is when the wall that separates your left and right nasal passages is off-center. This makes one nasal air passage smaller than the other and can cause nasal congestion and reduced airflow, which can result in difficulty breathing through the nose.

What Are the Symptoms?

It is estimated that up to 80% of the population has some degree of a deviated septum. However, many people don’t have symptoms and may not know they have the condition.

“A deviated septum is very common in the general population, but it ranges in severity,” says Gretchen Oakley, MD, who specializes in rhinology and skull base surgery at University of Utah Health. “There are many of us walking around with a deviated septum who don’t notice any symptoms from it, or at least are not too bothered by the asymmetric airflow through the nose if they do notice it.”

For those that do have symptoms, they might experience the following:

  • Nasal congestion

  • Frequent difficulty breathing out of one or both nostrils

  • Recurrent sinus infections

  • Nosebleeds

  • Nasal dryness or crusting

  • Snoring

  • Poor sleep quality

  • Dry mouth

What Causes a Deviated Septum?

Some people are born with a deviated septum, but most commonly, it develops over time as your nose grows. It can also be caused by injuries like a broken nose suffered in accidents, falls, or while playing sports.

“A deviated septum can worsen with age as other factors like inflammation from allergies or sinusitis contribute to the narrowing of the nasal passageway,” Oakley says. “The outer cartilages of the nose can also soften with age, which can lead to additional narrowing of the nasal passages in some patients.”

How Do You Treat a Deviated Septum?

If you think you may have a deviated septum, you can see a rhinologist for diagnosis and treatment options.

If you have a mild deviated septum and your symptoms don’t negatively impact your everyday life, you can manage your condition with:

  • Saline sprays or irrigations

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) or prescribed steroid nasal sprays

  • OTC or prescribed antihistamines or antihistamine sprays

  • Splints or nasal cones that help hold the nose open

However, if your deviated septum is affecting your quality of life due to breathing problems or frequent sinus infections, you and your doctor may consider a septoplasty.

During a septoplasty, a surgeon will make an incision inside your nose to correct the crooked cartilage and bone. After the surgery, you will have splints in the nose for about a week.

“Nasal congestion is very common and to be expected for at least the first week after this surgery, and then to a more minor degree for a few weeks after that as the nose is healing,” Oakley says.

Based on the severity of your symptoms, you and your doctor will decide on the best course of action to help you breathe better with your deviated septum.