It's more common than you think.
Do you find yourself reaching for tissues regularly? Have you noticed that you’re breathing out of your mouth lately? Maybe you’re feeling sinus pressure for what seems like the millionth time. If the answer is yes, you may have a deviated septum. Here’s how to tell (and what to do about it).
What is a deviated septum?
Between your nostrils is a thin piece of tissue called the septum. It divides your nose into two sections. A deviated septum happens when that tissue gets dislocated. “That shift can make one nostril smaller and narrower, making it harder to breathe,” says Lindsay Eisler, MD, a facial plastic surgeon at Geisinger.
Other symptoms of a deviated septum include:
- Nasal congestion
- Loud breathing
- Facial pain or fullness
- Inflammation of the sinuses
- Sleep apnea
- Mouth breathing
- Dry mouth
- Disrupted sleep
- Daytime tiredness
You may also have a nose that looks crooked. Or you might notice more frequent or severe sinus infections.
And if your septum is only slightly deviated, you might not notice any symptoms.
What causes a deviated septum?
A deviated septum is common. And it can be caused by injuries to the nose from things like:
- Contact sports
- Car accidents
“It’s also possible for babies to be born with their septum out of place,” Dr. Eisler says.
Making the diagnosis
Diagnosing a deviated septum starts with an exam from your healthcare provider. They’ll discuss your medical history with you and ask about your symptoms. Then, they’ll examine your nose. As you inhale and exhale deeply, they’ll look at the size and shape of your nostrils. And they’ll check the cartilage for any differences in symmetry.
After their physical exam, your provider will look inside your nose with a light. “They may insert a small, thin tube called an endoscope to determine the position of your septum and look for any other structural issues,” says Dr. Eisler.
And in some cases, your provider may order imaging of the nasal cavity to check for additional damage to your face.
Treatments for a deviated septum
If your septum is deviated, your healthcare provider will work with you to build a treatment plan. Depending on the severity, they may recommend treatments to manage your symptoms including:
- Decongestants to keep the nasal passages open
- Antihistamines to lessen or prevent allergy symptoms, which can cause congestion
- Nasal sprays to reduce swelling
If you have severe or long-lasting symptoms, your provider may recommend a septoplasty. This surgical procedure straightens and corrects a deviated septum. “Besides making the septum straight again, this procedure can improve breathing and relieve any nasal obstruction,” Dr. Eisler says.
Think you have a deviated septum? Talk to your healthcare provider. They can identify if you do. And they can start the process of getting it fixed.