The thin wall between the nostrils made of bone and cartilage is called the nasal septum. In case of a deviated septum, this wall appears crooked or displaced to one side. A deviated septum may be present at birth, become crooked during growth, or may be caused by an external injury to the nose or the face.
When the septum is extremely deviated towards one particular side, it causes one nasal passage to be bigger than the other. In severe cases it can result in reduced airflow and difficulty in breathing.
What Causes A Deviated Septum?
A significant percentage of people do not have a perfectly straight septum. A deviated septum may be genetic or inherited, or may also be caused by an injury or trauma. A deviated septum can while the fetus is still in the womb, and also during the birthing process. A study conducted in 2012 in India found that about 20 percent of the newborns were affected by the neonatal deviated septum. These were commonly seen in babies who had a larger birth weight and those who experienced difficult deliveries. In such cases, the person’s spetum will be smooyh and have an S or C shape. The extent of deviation may increase or change naturally with age.
Deviations caused due to injury or trauma later in life usually have an extreme angle and are irregular in shape.
Symptoms of Deviated Septum
A deviated septum may not always result in any symptoms in some people. But when it does, the most common symptoms are:
• Nasal congestion on one side of the nose more than the other.
• Difficulty breathing through the nose
• Nasal blockage, usually more intense on one side
• Frequent sinus infections
• Nosebleeds due to the dry surface of the nasal septum
• Snoring / noisy breathing during sleep due to the swelling of the intranasal tissues
• Recurrent sinus infections that are resistant to medication
• Postnasal drip
• Whistling noise while inhaling or exhaling
• Tendency to sleep on one particular side in order to optimize breathing through the nose at night. This could be due to the constriction of any one nasal passage due to the deviated septum.
Diagnosis of Deviated Septum
A deviated septum can be diagnosed by a physical examination with the help of a bright light and an instrument known as nasal speculum which helps visualize the nasal septum. Sometimes, an endoscope might be required for further examining of the nasal passage. Occasionally, a CT scan may also be used to view the extent of deviation.
How is Deviated Septum treated?
In many instances, people with deviated septum do not require any treatment. However, in cases where treatment becomes necessary, the following options are resorted to:
Medications: Decongestants which help reduce nasal tissue swelling are often administered. These help keep both the nasal airways clean. This treatment option alleviates some symptoms like stuffy nose or postnasal drip. Decongestants may be taken in the form of pills or nasal sprays. However, these may have certain side-effects like withdrawal symptoms due to frequent intake and elevation in blood pressure and heart rate. Other medications include antihistamines, nasal dilators, etc.
Nasal Sprays: Steroid sprays can help reduce the inflammation in the nasal passage and clear out any obstruction. It is recommended to take under after suitable prescription from a doctor regarding its dosage and frequency.
Septoplasty: If medications fail to have any effect, surgery may be performed to correct the deviated septum. This procedure is called Septoplasty. This treatment method involves cutting the septum and removing the excess cartilage or bone. The septum is then reinserted in the proper position. This results in straightening of the septum and the nasal passage.
When should a doctor be consulted for a deviated septum?
A person should see the doctor if he/she has the following symptoms or conditions:
• Sleep problems, especially sleep apnea
• Chronic sinus problems
• Trouble with breathing through the nose.