The nasal septum is the thin wall that separates the two nostrils, helping construct the nose. Made of bone and cartilage, the nasal septum separates the left and right airways which is important for effective airflow. Optimally, the septum is centered which means the nostrils are evenly split. But it is actually slightly off-center for 80% of people which is not particularly harmful or noticeable. When the septum is obviously situated more on one side, it is considered deviated. A deviated septum can range in terms of how deviated, or more to one side compared to the other, it is. This makes one airway smaller while expanding the other which can produce various symptoms.
What Causes a Deviated Septum?
The most common ways that deviated septums are produced include:
- Injury: accidental injury is a common cause of deviated septums. Car accidents, contact sports, and falling are common ways injuries occur that cause impact on the nose.
- Birth: a deviated septum can also be present at birth. This means that it was produced during fetal development.
A deviated septum effects airflow in the nasal airways and can restrict airflow in the nostril that is obstructed which can cause:
- Frequent nosebleeds resulting from dry and cracked skin in the nose
- Nasal congestion
- Sinus infections
- Postnasal drip
- Disrupted sleep
- Loud breathing while sleeping, snoring
- Sleep disorders
These symptoms can be experienced mildly or chronically, depending on how deviated one’s septum is. Symptoms can also be triggered (or exacerbated) by a common cold or allergies which really affect airflow. If you experience these symptoms regularly, it is important to have your deviated septum evaluated by a doctor who can identify potential treatment options.
Effective treatment really depends on a few factors: the degree of deviation as well as frequency and severity of symptoms. For deviated septum produced symptoms that are mild or infrequent, there are useful ways that symptoms can be alleviated and managed. This includes using over the counter medications:
- Decongestants: reduce the swelling of nasal tissue which allows the airways to expand, supporting better airflow.
- Antihistamines: specifically treat the symptoms produced by allergies – runny nose, itchy eyes, congestion etc. which can also aid in alleviating symptoms of a deviated septum.
- Nasal steroid sprays: this has to be prescribed by a doctor. A nasal steroid spray works to reduce swelling which opens up the nasal pathways, allowing airflow to travel without obstruction.
For more severe cases of deviated septums, these medications may provide temporary relief but if sinus infections and nosebleeds are experienced chronically, you should consult a doctor.
The process of adjusting a deviated septum starts with a doctor examining the nose. Using a nasal speculum, an instrument that opens the nostrils, your nostrils and nasal tissue will be looked at. Depending on the symptoms you experience and the specifics of your deviated septum, your doctor may refer you to a specialist like an ENT (ear, nose, throat) doctor for further examination and diagnosis. They could suggest a corrective procedure to realign your septum. This surgical treatment option for a deviated septum is called septoplasty. This procedure involves moving your septum so that it is in a centered position.
Preventing a Deviated Septum
The best way to reduce your risk of developing a deviated septum is by practicing safety measures to avoid injury. You can do this by:
- Always wearing protective gear while playing sports
- Driving safely, always wearing a seatbelt
- Wearing a helmet while riding a bike, motorcycle, scooter, etc.
Most people have a deviated septum and do not experience any symptoms related to it. But if you do experience symptoms chronically then it is important to have your nose examined. Treating a deviated septum – surgically or managing mild symptoms through medications – can significantly improve breathing and alleviate symptoms that disrupt daily life. Not only does this reduce your risk of developing other conditions like sleep disorders, but enhanced breathing offers so many benefits: better quality of sleep, increases energy, improves mood, etc. This supports overall wellness and better allows you to navigate daily life.