Trouble Breathing Could Signal a Deviated Septum

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Your nose has two sections, divided by bone and cartilage, called the nasal septum. The septum typically sits equally between your nostrils. But sometimes the septum becomes deviated, or bent, causing one nostril to be much smaller than the other, or collapsed. This can occur as a defect when the facial skeleton grows, or as the result of trauma like a punch to the nose or a soccer ball that misses its mark. Ear, nose, and throat specialist Christopher Rizzi, MD, explains that if your deviation is minor, you may have no symptoms. “You may never even know you have it in the first place,” he says. “If this is the case, no treatment is necessary.”

Other times, a crooked septum can make it hard to breathe. “Some patients with a deviated septum have difficulty exercising because they can't breathe adequately through the nose,” says Dr. Rizzi.Others find it difficult to sleep. A deviated septum can cause snoring or sleep apnea.

In addition to difficulty breathing, other signs that you may have a deviated septum can include:

  • Frequent nasal congestion
  • Inflamed sinuses
  • Nosebleed
  • Facial pain
  • Headaches
  • Noisy night breathing

A thorough evaluation by a physician can determine if your symptoms are due to a deviated septum. “I can quickly look inside the nose and see if your septum is centered or deviated toward one side,” says Dr. Rizzi

Treatment Depends On Severity

For minor deviations, breathing can often be improved with nasal sprays that reduce swelling in the nose. “But when an airway is completely obstructed on one side, you’ll probably need surgery to correct it,” says Dr. Rizzi.

Sometimes the surgery, called septoplasty, is fairly simple. “While the patient is asleep, we make a small incision inside the nose and remove the deviated portion of the bone,” Dr. Rizzi explains. Typically, the patient goes home the same day and misses about a week of work because of significant congestion as it heals.

If the deviation is extensive, a procedure called rhinoplasty may be needed. “Rhinoplasty requires numerous incisions in which we use some of your own nose cartilage to rebuild parts of the nose to repair defects so you can breathe better,” says Dr. Rizzi.” Before the surgery is complete, your doctor will make sure that your breathing will be improved and that your nose looks as good as it can.”

To learn more about deviated septum, talk to your doctor or health care provider or search for a provider.

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