A deviated nasal septum is a structural disorder of the nose. Your nasal septum is a wall made of bone and cartilage that divides the nasal cavity into two. It extends from the back of your nose to your nostrils. Ideally it’s straight and lies in the middle, separating the right and left side of your nose into two passageways that are equal in size. But for most people – 80% of us by some estimates – it’s a little off center so that one nostril is smaller than the other.1 This doesn’t usually cause problems. But in some cases, the septum bends or shifts severely to one side resulting in a “deviated septum”. This could happen due to an injury or birth defect. A deviated septum can cause symptoms like:2 3
1. Trouble Breathing Through The Nose
The most common sign of a deviated septum is that it obstructs the smooth flow of air through the nasal passage. This can make difficult for you to breathe through your nose. You may notice that the symptom is worse on one side and it may sometimes occur on the side that is opposite to the bend. You may also have a blocked nostril that shifts from one nostril to the other.4
2. Chronic Sinus Infections
The bones surrounding your nose has hollow spaces within known as sinuses which produce mucus. This mucus drains into your nose. But a deviated septum can block your nose and stop drainage from your sinus into your nasal cavity. This can make you prone to inflammation of the sinuses and frequent sinus infections – a condition known as sinusitis.
Sinusitis can cause a sense of pressure or pain in your nose, cheeks, between your eyes, or forehead. It may also result in headache, fever, nasal congestion, mucus drainage into your throat, coughing which may worsen at night, bad breath, fatigue, toothache, and a problem with your sense of taste and smell.
Do keep in mind though that not everyone with sinusitis has a deviated septum and that people with a crooked septum don’t necessarily get sinusitis. However, if you frequently suffer from sinus infection it might be a good idea to get yourself checked out for a deviated septum.5
If you have a deviated septum, the flow of air over the deviation can have a drying effect. This can make you vulnerable to nosebleeds.
If your deviated septum comes into contact with structures on the walls of your nose, then you may get headaches. For instance, the wall inside your nostrils has structures known as turbinates which project into your nasal passages and help to moisturize and warm air as it moves through the nose.6 If your septum deviates to the extent that it comes in contact with these, it can cause headaches.7
5. Noisy Breathing While Sleeping
If your nasal airways are obstructed, then extra effort is required to move air through it. This results in a vacuum in your throat that pulls the floppy tissues in your throat together and causes snoring or noisy breathing.8 The American Academy of Otolaryngology indicates that this symptom may be particularly relevant for babies and young children.
6. Disturbed Sleep
Obstruction of the nasal passage makes it difficult for you to breathe through your nose and force you to breathe through your mouth, resulting in a dry mouth. In many people, these factors worsen at night when they’re lying down. This can disturb sleep and cause you to have a restless night.9
If you have a mildly deviated septum, you may only experience symptoms when you have a cold. This is because the cold may result in nasal inflammation which exacerbates mild problems with airflow through your nasal passages caused by the deviated septum.
What Can You Do About It?
A mildly deviated septum might not require any treatment. In some cases, medications like decongestants, corticosteroid nasal sprays, or antihistamines may help you deal with symptoms caused by this condition. Your doctor may also advise you to go in for surgery if you have particularly troublesome symptoms like recurring sinus infections or nosebleeds.10
|↑1, ↑3, ↑10||Deviated Septum. American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery.|
|↑2||Deviated Septum. Merck Manual.|
|↑4||Deviated Septum. Healthdirect Australia.|
|↑5||Sinusitis. American Academy of Family Physicians.|
|↑6, ↑9||Septoplasty & Turbinate Surgery. American Rhinologic Society.|
|↑7||Gershwin, M. Eric, and Gary Incaudo, eds. Diseases of the sinuses: a comprehensive textbook of diagnosis and treatment. Springer Science & Business Media, 2012.|
|↑8||Snoring and Sleep Apnea. American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery.|