The septum is the wall made of bone and cartilage that separates your nose into two equal parts. However, when the septum is bent or misaligned, it is referred to as a deviated septum. If you have a deviated septum, you might not know the exact cause of your condition. While some people are born with a slightly bent septum, others may have gotten it from long forgotten injuries.
With the passage of time, you might experience problems or worsening symptoms with your breathing, which means that you should seek help from an ENT specialist. During your consultation, the doctor will use a small camera attached to the end of an instrument to examine your nose. He will then observe your septum and give you the right diagnosis.
Negative implications of a deviated septum
When a deviated septum is severe, one side of the nose is blocked, which restricts the airflow and causes breathing difficulties. Moreover, the exposure of a bent septum to the drying effect of air, can cause crusting and/or bleeding in some people. A deviated nasal septum can also cause nasal obstruction when the tissues lining the nose swell up. In serious cases, a deviated septum can lead to sleep apnea, a potentially fatal sleeping disorder.
Symptoms of a deviated septum
Not everyone with a deviated septum experiences all the symptoms. However, you should be on the lookout for the following symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing – a bent septum makes it harder for air to pass through your nose into the lungs. Consequently, you may have trouble breathing especially if you have allergies or a cold. These two conditions make the nose swell and the passages become narrower, making it more difficult to get air into your nostrils.
- Regular nosebleeds – in some people, a deviated septum causes regular nosebleeds. This is because the misaligned septum creates turbulence when air passes through your nostrils. To understand this better, think of your nose as the hood of your car: the more aerodynamic the region is, the easier it is for air to pass through. In your nose, the more turbulence your septum experiences, the drier it gets and this can cause bleeding.
- Frequent cold symptoms or sinus infections – a blocked airway leads to post nasal drip and sinus infections, among other cold symptoms. If you always have a cold, you should see your otolaryngologist (or ENT doctor).
- Headaches and facial pain – people with deviated septums always feel clogged up. This often leads to facial pain, as well as headaches. In other cases, headaches and facial pain are caused by the nasal septum meeting the outside wall of your nose. Obviously, if your septum meets the outer edge of your nose, you have a severely deviated nasal septum.
- Difficulty sleeping – any or all of the symptoms of a deviated septum can cause sleeping difficulties. Finding some sleep when your nose is heavily congested is always difficult. Now imagine having to do it every day for the rest of your life. Living with a deviated septum causes you to lose sleep, which may make you irritable. More importantly, a deviated septum can contribute to sleep apnea, which is a sleep disorder that can be very dangerous.
- Awareness of the nasal cycle – the nose usually alternates from being blocked on one side to blocked on the other. This phenomenon is known as the nasal cycle and it is normal. However, it is not normal to be aware of your nasal cycle. This could be an indication that you have an unusual amount of nasal obstruction.
- Obstruction of the nostrils – if one or both of your nostrils are obstructed, breathing can be quite hard. You might notice the obstruction more when you have allergies or a cold which cause your nasal passages to become narrow.
- Preference for sleeping on one side – people who like to sleep on one side in order to optimize breathing through the nose at night, may have a deviated septum, a well.
What is the best treatment for a deviated septum?
Deviated septum is an extremely common condition that does not always need treatment. Symptoms such as postnasal drip and stuffiness can be alleviated using over-the-counter medication. In most cases, the doctor will always recommend medication before suggesting surgery.
However, if you have a deviated septum that causes snoring, breathing problems, or sleep apnea, your septum needs to be repaired through surgery. The procedure to fix a misaligned septum is known as septoplasty or septal reconstruction.
When should I see an ENT specialist?
You need to see a doctor if you have:
- Sleeping problems
- Chronic sinus problems
- Trouble breathing through your nose