An Overview of a Deviated Septum

ENT doctor examining teenage girl with nasal speculum

Westend61/Getty Images

In This Article
Table of Contents

A deviated septum means that the cartilage and bone that divides the nostrils and the right and left sides of the nasal airway is essentially crooked. Small deviations typically don't cause noticeable symptoms and can be left untreated. But if the deviation is bad enough, it may cause difficulties breathing, nosebleeds, a stuffy nose, and snoring or loud breathing that may prompt someone to have the issue evaluated and corrected.

A doctor can usually diagnose a deviated septum upon examination. If severe enough, you may be offered a surgery called a septoplasty to straighten out the septum.

Symptoms

Difficulty breathing is usually the first and most noticeable symptom of a deviated septum. Other common symptoms include :

Due to the normal aging process of the cartilage within the nose, a deviated septum may worsen over time. Health conditions such as allergic rhinitis or chronic sinusitis and excessive weight can also worsen the nasal blockage caused by a deviated septum. 

Small deviations in the nasal septum are common and do not warrant treatment unless they cause symptoms.

Causes

Research suggests that up to 80% of the population has a deviated septum. Oftentimes, the deviated septum is present from birth due to a genetic or congenital factor. In these cases, a high-arched palate may be present as well.

Trauma from childbirth can also contribute to a deviated septum. One may also occur as a result of trauma later in life, such as a broken nose from a sports or car accident. 

Diagnosis

A deviated septum is best diagnosed by an ear, nose, throat (ENT) specialist. This can usually be done fairly easily by examining your septum with a bright light and a nasal speculum.

Sometimes, other tests—such as a nasal endoscopy (a procedure in which a doctor inserts a thin, flexible tube deep into your nose) or a computed tomography (CT) scan—may be performed.

These tests can help your doctor evaluate for various nasal and sinus conditions that may be accompanying your deviated septum. Examples that are commonly seen include: 

  • Sinus infection and accompanying swelling; swollen mucous membranes
  • Enlargement of the tonsils or adenoids
  • Congestion in the nose
  • Turbinate hypertrophy from allergies

Treatment

If your symptoms are severe and/or if breathing problems like snoring or sleep apnea occur, your doctor may recommend a septoplasty to fix your deviated septum. However, if you are under age 18, your doctor may suggest waiting to have the procedure done, as your face is still growing and developing.

A septoplasty entails surgically breaking the cartilage that makes up the nasal septum and repositioning it back in the midline so that the airways on each side are opened up. While a minor deviation may still exist after the surgery, breathing and snoring problems are usually cured.

Septoplasty procedures are generally well-tolerated; however, they still carry risks. This is why it's important to have a thoughtful discussion with your doctor about whether surgery is right for you. 

The main risks of surgery are a septal perforation and potential saddle nose deformity, in which the bridge of the nose collapses.

Other risks of surgery include:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Complications from anesthesia
  • Numbness of the upper teeth and nose
  • Infection

Very rarely, a cerebrospinal fluid leak may occur.

If you do decide to proceed with surgery, the good news is that most septoplasty procedures are performed in a surgical center (rather than a hospital), which means you can go home the same day.

Recovery from the surgery will gradually occur over days to weeks. That said, it may take up to one year for the tissues within your nose to fully heal.

A Word From Verywell

If you are experiencing nasal symptoms, like stuffiness or difficulty breathing through one nostril, be sure to make an appointment with your primary care doctor or an ENT specialist. While a deviated septum may be present, there are many other potential causes for your symptoms.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Fried MP. Deviated septum. Merck Manual. Updated March 2019.

  2. Ahn JC, Lee WH, We J, Rhee CS, Lee C, Kim JW. Nasal septal deviation with obstructive symptoms: Association found with asthma but not with other general health problems. Am J Rhinol Allergy. 2016;30(2):e17-20

  3. Johansson L, Bende M. Excessive obesity is related to daily symptoms of nasal blockage: the Skövde population-based study. Rhinology. 2007 Sep;45(3):205-7.

  4. Andrades P, Cuevas P, Danilla S, et al. The accuracy of different methods for diagnosing septal deviation in patients undergoing septorhinoplasty: A prospective study. J Plast Reconstr Aesthet Surg. 2016;69(6):848-855.

  5. Kumar L, Belaldavar BP, Bannur H. Influence of Deviated Nasal Septum on Nasal Epithelium: An AnalysisHead Neck Pathol. 2017;11(4):501–505. doi:10.1007/s12105-017-0819-9

  6. Verhoeven S, Schmelzer B. Type and severity of septal deviation are not related with the degree of subjective nasal obstruction. Rhinology. 2016 Dec 1;54(4):355-60.

  7. Lee JJ, Hong SD, Dhong HJ, Chung SK, Kim HY. Risk factors for intraoperative saddle nose deformity in septoplasty patients. Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol. 2019 Jul;276(7):1981-86. doi: 10.1007/s00405-019-05411-x

  8. American Academy of Otolaryngology. (2019). Deviated Septum.

Additional Reading

  • Kryger, MH et al. "Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine." ExpertConsult, 6th edition, 2016.

  • Wang MB, Corren J. Etiologies of nasal symptoms: An overview. Feldweg, ed. UpToDate. Waltham, MA: UpToDate Inc.