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The septum is cartilage in the nose that separates the nostrils. Ideally, it is at the center and divides the nostrils evenly. But this often isn’t the case. Many people have an uneven septum, which makes one nostril larger than the other.
Severe unevenness is known as a deviated septum. This can cause health complications such as a blocked nostril or difficulty breathing.
An uneven septum is very common. It requires medical attention only if it causes other health issues or negatively impacts quality of life. According to The University of Chicago Medicine, 80 percent off all septums are deviated to some degree (UCM).
A deviated symptom can be congenital. This means that a person was born with it. It can also occur as a result of an injury to the nose. People often get these injuries from contact sports, fighting, or car accidents. A deviated septum can worsen with age.
Most people with a deviated septum have only minor deviations. Symptoms are unlikely in these cases. The most common symptom is difficulty breathing, especially through the nose. For most people with a deviated septum, one side of the nose is easier to breathe through.
Other symptoms include nosebleeds, sinus infections, or dryness in one nostril. People might snore or breathe loudly when they sleep, or experience sleep disruptions. There can be nasal congestion or pressure. Breathing through the mouth can result in dry mouth. Severe deviation can be accompanied by facial pain.
You should see your doctor if you frequently have nosebleeds or sinus infections. Also see a doctor if breathing difficulty is having an impact on your quality of life.
To diagnose a deviated septum, your doctor will first examine your nostrils with a nasal speculum. The doctor will check the septum’s placement and impact on the size of the nostrils. He or she will also ask questions about sleep, snoring, sinus problems, and difficulty breathing.
For most cases, treatment is not necessary. To help with symptoms such as sinus infections, treatment will focus on correcting that issue. Common treatments for symptoms include decongestants, antihistamines, or nasal steroid sprays. Some people find relief using nasal strips, which help to open both nasal passages.
Surgery is the common treatment option for a seriously deviated septum if symptoms do not improve with medication or other treatment attempts. The reconstructive surgery is called septoplasty.
Septoplasty takes about 90 minutes and is performed under anesthesia. During the procedure, a surgeon will make a cut in the septum and take out excess cartilage or bone. This straightens the septum.
A deviated septum may not cause any issues and be left alone. In some cases, a deviated septum can lead to other complications. These include sleep apnea, snoring, congestion, difficulty breathing, infections, or nosebleeds.
Written by: Amber Erickson Gabbey and Ana Gotter
Published on: Sep 11, 2013
Medically reviewed on: Oct 25, 2016: Alana Biggers, MD, MPH
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