Health Information

Deviated Nasal Septum

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Definition

The nasal septum is the wall that separates the left and right nostrils. A centered septum allows air to flow equally through each nostril. In a deviated nasal septum, the wall is not centered.

A deviated septum may cause no symptoms at all. In severe cases, airflow through one or both nostrils may be blocked. A blocked nostril may cause chronic stuffiness and a tendency to get sinus infections .

Deviated Septum
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Causes

Causes include:

  • Present at birth—arose during fetal development (5% of cases)
  • Birth injury to the nose
  • A blow to the nose, often during an accident or while playing sports

Risk Factors

Risk factors include:

  • Contact sports, especially karate or football without appropriate protective headgear
  • Trauma is the most common risk factor

Symptoms

Symptoms include:

  • Stuffy nose (one or both sides)
  • Sinus infections
  • Nosebleeds
  • Breathing noisily during sleep
  • Facial pain or headache

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor will examine the nasal passages. A nasal speculum will hold the nose open. A thin telescope is passed into the nose.

Treatment

Most people will not require treatment. In severe cases, surgery may be needed. Surgery on the septum alone is called septoplasty . It relieves nasal blockage by centering the septum between the two nostrils.

Sometimes surgery to reshape the nose ( rhinoplasty ) is performed at the same time. The two procedures together are called septorhinoplasty. Children who need surgery usually wait until they have stopped growing, around age 16.

Prevention

To help prevent a deviated septum:

  • Wear seat belts in automobiles and airplanes
  • Wear appropriate protective headgear when playing sports

Revision Information

  • American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery

    http://www.entnet.org

  • HealthFinder, US Department of Health and Human Services

    http://www.healthfinder.gov

  • Canadian Society of Otolaryngology

    http://www.entcanada.org

  • The Canadian Society of Plastic Surgeons

    http://www.plasticsurgery.ca

  • Beers MH, Berkow R, et al. Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy . 17 th ed. Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck and Company;1999.

  • Fact sheet: deviated septum. American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery website. Available at: http://www.entnet.org/HealthInformation/deviatedSeptum.cfm . Accessed July 24, 2008.