The septum is the cartilage and bone that divides the nostrils. If the septum is deviated, it means that the wall in not aligned properly and may be dividing the nostrils unevenly. Some sources suggest that up to 80% of the population have a septum that is not centered, but this is only a problem when the septum is deviated far enough to cause bothersome symptoms.
What Causes a Deviated Septum?
Several things can cause a deviated septum. It can be due to a birth defect such as cleft lip or cleft palate. Other causes include injury, such as a broken nose or damage from previous medical treatments.
Symptoms of a Deviated Septum
- difficulty breathing
- frequent nosebleeds
- sinus infections
- facial pain
- post-nasal drip
How Is a Deviated Septum Treated?
A deviated septum can be surgically repaired with a procedure called a septoplasty. The extensive nature of this surgery depends on the defect and whether or not other surrounding structures are involved. The cleft can commonly be affected as well as the maxillary sinuses. Maxillary fistulas, abnormal passageways between the maxillary sinus and the oral cavity, are not uncommon with deviated septum and can be repaired simultaneously.
The surgery involves cutting away damaged portions of the septum and removing or realigning them. To avoid the need to make an incision, the procedure is usually done through the nostrils. The surgeon may use splints or packing to keep the tissue in place while it heals.
A septoplasty can be performed in a doctor's office (mild cases) or hospital, and some people may be able to have same-day procedures. Prior to surgery, your doctor or nurse will give you information about when to stop eating (usually after midnight the day of surgery) and what medications you can or cannot take prior to the surgery. Medications with blood thinning properties, such as aspirin, usually need to be discontinued well in advance.
American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head & Neck Surgery. Fact Sheet: Deviated Septum. Accessed April 12, 2009 from http://www.entnet.org/HealthInformation/deviatedSeptum.cfm
Rush University Medical Center. Deviated Septum. Accessed April 12, 2009 from http://www.rush.edu/rumc/page-1098987319926.html
University of Maryland Medical Center. Otolaryngology. Deviated Septum. Accessed April 12, 2009 from http://www.umm.edu/ent_guide/deviated.htm