What is a deviated septum?

The nasal septum is the thin wall of skeletal tissue inside of your nose that separates your left and right nostrils. It would be ideal if everyone's nasal septum was directly down the centre of the nose, separating the nostrils equally. However, about 80% of people have a nasal septum that is deviated (bent or misaligned) so that one nostril is narrower than the other. The extent of the deviation varies from person to person. Many people have a slightly deviated septum and don't even notice it. Others may have mild symptoms that only come about with a cold. People with a severe deviation may have one side of the nose blocked, resulting in constant symptoms. A deviated septum can occur due to a birth defect or due to injury to the nose.

What are the symptoms of a deviated septum?

If one of the nostrils is much narrower than the other, the airway may be blocked, making it difficult to breathe through the nose. This is the most common symptom of deviated septum. Some people may only notice this when they have a cold or allergies that cause the nasal passages to become swollen and even more narrowed. Having a deviated septum can also be the cause of frequent nosebleeds as the nasal passages can become dry. Noisy breathing during sleep can also occur, most common in young children. Sinusitis (inflammation of the nose or sinuses), nasal congestion, facial pain, and headache can also occur. People with deviated septums are also more prone to frequent sinus infections.

What is the link between a deviated septum and frequent sinus infections?

If you find that you frequently have sinus infections, then it could be due to a deviated septum. The narrowed nasal passageway caused by a deviated septum can cause mucus to become blocked by preventing the drainage of mucus from a sinus into the nasal cavity. Excess mucus inside the sinuses presents an attractive environment for bacteria, leading to a sinus infection. This in turn causes inflammation of the sinuses (sinusitis), and because it can happen regularly, chronic sinusitis can occur. Therefore, people who have recurring sinus infections should have their doctor investigate the possibility of a deviated septum underlying or contributing to the cause.

How can a deviated septum be treated?

The symptoms resulting from a deviated septum can be treated with common medications such as decongestants (to reduce pain and pressure), antihistamines (to reduce runny nose), and corticosteroid nose sprays (to reduce swelling). To actually repair a deviated septum, a surgery called septoplasty is required. During this procedure, parts of the nasal septum may be removed and repositioned to the centre of the nose. If you suffer from chronic sinus infections, a septoplasty can reduce or eliminate symptoms. Your doctor will tell you whether or not your nasal septum requires surgery.