How Nasal Septoplasty May Fix Your Breathing

This procedure may help with snoring

If you have difficulty breathing through your nose, especially with chronic mouth breathing or symptoms of snoring or sleep apnea, you may want to learn about a surgery called septoplasty.

Learn how this procedure may improve a deviated septum, why it may be done, what to expect with the surgery and in recovery, potential risks and costs, and alternative treatment options.

Fixing a Deviated Septum

The nasal septum is the cartilage partition that separates the left and right nostril and air passages within the nose. If you place a finger into the nose, you can feel it at the midline. Unfortunately, the septum may not always lie straight within the nose.

A deviated nasal septum may be present from birth (a congenital condition). It also may gradually become deviated during development, especially when the tongue is not properly placed against the hard palate, leading to a high arch and possibly crumpling the septum. A deviated septum may also occur due to trauma, such as with a blow to the nose causing a nasal fracture.

The repair of a deviated nasal septum with a surgical procedure that repositions the cartilage and bone within the nose to the midline is called septoplasty.

In some cases, surgery on the turbinates (tissue growths within the nose that humidify and filter air) may also occur, sometimes this is called turbinectomy or a turbinate reduction.

Do You Need s Septoplasty?

If the nasal septum is partially or completely obstructing one or both sides of the nose, this may interfere with breathing. It is normal to breathe through the nose predominately. If the nose is blocked, mouth breathing may occur. This can lead to symptoms like a dry mouth or chapped lips and may cause snoring or sleep apnea during sleep.

If nasal drainage is affected, recurrent sinus infections may occur, prompting treatment. This may be exacerbated by allergies. In some cases, a severely deviated nasal septum may lead to a visually crooked nose. This may be corrected for cosmetic reasons.

What to Expect

Septoplasty is a surgery that is typically performed by an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist—sometimes called an otorhinolaryngologist—or a plastic surgeon. It could be performed by a general surgeon if specialists are not accessible.

After discussing your symptoms and medical history, the surgeon will physically examine the nasal passages. This may be aided by in-office endoscopy, in which numbing medicine is sprayed into the nose before a small camera attached to a scope is inserted to assess the spaces within the nostrils. If it is deemed to be appropriate, you will be scheduled for surgery.

You will be encouraged to discontinue blood-thinning medications (such as aspirin and ibuprofen) for two weeks prior to and after the surgery. It is also recommended that smoking be stopped as this can affect healing.

The surgeon will straighten the nasal septum by cutting and repositioning the cartilage or bone within the nose. The incisions are placed within the nose, and grafts may be placed to help correct the deviation. There may be absorbable sutures placed, meaning the stitches do not have to be removed at a later time. Soft silicone splints are often inserted into the nostril on each side to help support the new position of the nasal septum. Packing materials, like a bandage, may be placed to reduce bleeding with instructions on removal following the surgery.

The surgery itself is typically done as an outpatient, meaning that you will be taken into an operating room and given either local or general anesthetic; but after the surgery is completed and a brief period of post-operative monitoring, you will be sent home the same day. If there are complications, such as a bad reaction to the anesthesia or uncontrolled bleeding, you may rarely be admitted to the hospital for further observation.

Risks and Costs

As with any surgery, there are risks, and the risks with septoplasty are as follows:

  • incomplete resolution of symptoms
  • an undesirable change in the shape of the nose
  • movement of the septum back to its prior position
  • perforation of the septum (resulting in a hole in the cartilage)
  • bleeding (including a collection of blood called a hematoma)
  • decreased sense of smell
  • numbness in the upper gum or teeth
  • pain
  • infection
  • anesthesia reactions
  • death

The procedure is typically covered by insurance if required to treat a medical condition. If it is done for cosmetic reasons, this may be an out-of-pocket expense. It is advisable to speak with your doctor’s office and insurance company about the expected costs, including any potential copayments or unmet deductibles. Without insurance coverage, the procedure could easily cost thousands of dollars.

Recovery From Septoplasty

Most people recover from septoplasty fairly quickly. The pain may subside within a few days and most people can return to work within a week or two. There may be continued healing for several months up to one year, but this does not require significant disruption to normal routines.

Immediately following septoplasty, you may be advised to:

  • avoid strenuous activity, such as aerobic exercise that may elevate the blood pressure and increase the risk of nosebleeds
  • stop blowing your nose
  • elevate the head at night with stacked pillows or a wedge pillow
  • avoid clothing that is tight fitting and must be pulled over the head

You will likely follow up with your surgeon in the clinic to discuss your recovery. In some cases, post-operative testing may be arranged two to three months after surgery to reassess conditions like sleep apnea.

Results

It will be important to review your symptoms after you have fully recovered from the procedure.

Most people will note improved nasal breathing, decreased snoring or sleep apnea, and other benefits.

These results may vary, and unfortunately, the resolution may be incomplete in some. It is possible for the septum to still be slightly displaced to one side, and it may even shift back over time, leading to a persistence of symptoms. In these cases, it may be necessary to have a revision of the septoplasty or other interventions to further optimize the response to treatment.

Alternative Treatments

For those who seek alternative treatments to undergoing surgery with nasal septoplasty, there may be a few options to consider. If the nose is obstructed, it may be helpful to open the nasal passages and treat any congestion related to allergies. Consider these options:

If you continue to struggle with symptoms of snoring or sleep apnea, you should speak with a board-certified sleep physician about the use of treatments such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or an oral appliance from a specialty dentist.

A Word From Verywell

If you suffer from symptoms related to a deviated nasal septum, septoplasty may be the surgical treatment you need. Speak with a surgeon and after evaluation, you will be able to determine the potential benefits of the procedure. If your symptoms persist after septoplasty, consider some of the alternatives that may promote nasal breathing and improve your overall health.

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