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Deviated Septum

If your nostrils are a bit off-center, you're not alone. The nasal cartilage that divides the nostrils is off-center in approximately 80 percent of all people. Usually, this is a slight deviation and causes no problems.

But for some people, the difference is more pronounced and is called a deviated septum. A deviated septum can be present at birth, develop in childhood or be the result of an injury. It can cause or contribute to more serious problems, including the following:

  • Breathing difficulties: You may have trouble breathing through your nose.
  • Chronic sinusitis: Chronic sinusitis means that your sinuses have been inflamed for 12 weeks or more, usually caused by nasal problems or allergies. Symptoms may include congestion, post-nasal drip, coughing, general weakness and fever.
  • Nosebleeds: A deviated septum may cause nosebleeds that are difficult to control.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): Persistent snoring is a sign of obstructive sleep apnea, a common yet serious condition that involves some degree of airway collapse or anatomical obstruction in the nose or throat. Symptoms may also include pauses in breathing, gasping or choking while sleeping and daytime sleepiness. A deviated septum may contribute to CPAP mask intolerance or be one factor causing your sleep apnea. Doctors in the Section of Sleep Surgery can perform a full airway evaluation to determine the problem.

Though infants, children and teens may have a deviated septum, corrective surgery, if needed, is not performed until the cartilage has stopped developing — usually by the mid to late teens.

How can I get help for a deviated septum?

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, see your primary care physician. After examining you, your doctor may recommend that you see an ENT (ear, nose and throat specialist) for further evaluation and treatment.

The ENT (also called an otorhinolaryngologist) may perform specialized tests to take a closer look, including nasal endoscopy. For this test, the doctor anesthetizes your nose with nasal spray, then uses a small telescope to examine your nasal cavity under magnification.

Care for a deviated septum at Rush

Treatment for a deviated septum includes medications that help you breathe better and surgery to repair the deviated septum and related problems.

  • Medications: Your doctor may prescribe decongestants, antihistamines and corticosteroid nasal sprays to help relieve the symptoms associated with a deviated septum.
  • Surgery:
    • A surgical procedure called a septoplasty can repair a deviated nasal septum, relieving symptoms associated with a nasal obstruction as well as chronic sinusitis. Sometimes, a septoplasty is performed at the same time as sinus surgery to relieve sinus problems or rhinoplasty to reshape the bone and cartilage of the nose.
    • If you have nasal valve collapse related to a deviated septum, you may need nasal valve surgery in addition to a septoplasty.

Why choose Rush for deviated septum care?

  • Comprehensive evaluation: Sleep surgeons at Rush can perform a comprehensive airway evaluation if you suffer from sleep apnea. A deviated septum can be a common reason that patients do not tolerate CPAP therapy.
  • Treatment customized for you: Ear, nose and throat specialists at Rush will do a comprehensive evaluation to make sure you receive the right treatment for your specific condition, whether you have a deviated septum or another structural problem within the nose. If necessary, they will collaborate with or refer you to other specialists who can help.
  • Expert care: Facial plastic and reconstructive surgeons at Rush are dedicated to treating only conditions affecting the head and neck, including deviated septum, nasal septal perforation and conditions that affect the shape of the nose. This kind of highly focused expertise is not available everywhere.

Departments and programs that treat this condition