What Is a Deviated Septum?

By Mary Anne Ott

Your nose cleans and warms the air you breathe in. Your nose is separated into to equal sides by a thin wall called the nasal septum. The nasal septum is ideally in the center of your nose. If your septum is displaced, one side of your nose becomes smaller than the other. A deviated septum is any abnormal shape of the nasal septum.

Cause

Your deviated septum may be something you were born with, but most of the time it is the result of an injury to your nose. Infants can have their septum displaced during childbirth. Any injury to the face or nose can knock the septum out of position. Even minor injuries to the nose can effect the placement of the septum.

Symptoms

A deviated septum can cause breathing problems, sleep apnea, nasal congestion, nosebleeds or frequent sinus infections; it can also cause you to snore. Severe symptoms include nasal blockage, reduced airflow, facial pain and headaches. If your symptoms are mild they may go unnoticed, and your deviated septum may never be diagnosed. Seek treatment for your symptoms if they are severe or interfere with your ability to live a productive life.

Identification

Your deviated septum will be diagnosed with a physical exam of your nose. Doctors use bright lights and various instruments to examine the inside of your nose. If your deviated septum is serious you may be referred to an ear-nose-and-throat (ENT) doctor for evaluation.

Treatment

Though medication can manage mild symptoms, they are a temporary fix and will not correct the deviated septum. Surgery is the only way to repair the damaged septum. A septoplasy is a procedure in which the doctor repositions the septum to the center of your nose. This surgery is often done in combination with a rhinoplasty (a.k.a. a "nose job"; surgery in which your nose is reshaped). This second procedure is done to ensure that your nose will have a shape that will accommodate the new placement of the septum.

Prevention

Avoid injury to your face and nose. Wear your seat belt while riding in a car. Wear a helmet while on a motorcycle or bicycle. Use caution when participating in sports and other physical activities. Treat any injury immediately, and seek medical help if the problem appears serious.

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