The cartilage barrier between your nostrils may not be straight or evenly spaced, and while it’s not a problem in every case, this issue — called a deviated septum — can cause breathing trouble and other complications. Though there are treatments for some of the symptoms of deviated septums, correcting the problem requires surgery.
How deviated septums occur
The septum, the thin wall that divides your nasal passages, may be irregular from birth in some people, but in most cases, problems start due to an injury to the nose, such as from trauma in a car accident, contact sports incident, or some other injury. Since cartilage is softer and more flexible than bone, it can suffer damage without the more obvious signs that accompany bone fractures.
Aging may make a deviated septum more obvious, since nasal structures can change with time. So the deviated septum may or may not worsen over time, but symptoms related to it could become more serious.
Symptoms and complications of a deviated septum
The deviated septum itself can sometimes be sufficient to create breathing issues on its own. In some cases, you may breathe fine most of the time, but when you have a cold or other respiratory issue, the decreased airflow through your nose may be more noticeable.
The irregular shape of nasal passages affected by a deviated septum can cause drying of the inner surfaces of your nose, leading to frequent nosebleeds. Breathing irregularities made worse by a deviated septum could cause sleep problems such as noisy breathing or causing you to sleep predominantly on one side.
Under normal circumstances, the nasal cycle sees one side of the nose being blocked and then the other on a regular basis, something most people notice at the time but rarely think about again. An abnormal nasal cycle, where one side of the nose is blocked without much alternating, may indicate a deviated septum.
Treating a deviated septum
There are two general levels of treatment when you have a deviated septum. The first level focuses on treating symptoms. This could be through the use of decongestants, nasal corticosteroid sprays or antihistamines. The medications here are used to prevent swelling and congestive symptoms that aggravate breathing when combined with your deviated septum condition. Once swollen mucous membranes have subsided, your breathing returns to normal.
If you still have breathing problems when the mucous membranes are normal, you may be a candidate for surgery to correct the deviated septum itself.
Septoplasty straightens and repositions your septum to the center of your nasal passage. The cartilage of the septum is reshaped to eliminate the deviation. This may resolve most breathing issues, though of course allergies and respiratory infections can still cause breathing difficulties on their own.
Choosing an experienced ear, nose, and throat practice such as ENT & Allergy Specialists is the first step toward easy breathing. Call our offices or request an appointment online to get started today.