Learn if you're a candidate for deviated septum surgery

If you have trouble breathing through your nose, you may have a deviated nasal septum. You may need a surgical procedure called a septoplasty to open your nasal passages. Doctors recommend septoplasty if nonsurgical treatments don’t work.

What Is a Deviated Septum?

The septum is the cartilage in the middle of your nose that separates the nostrils. If the septum is off-center, the left and right nasal passageways are different sizes.

A deviated septum can affect your quality of life — you may have trouble breathing if one or both nostrils are partially blocked. A deviated septum may aggravate allergy problems and contribute to sleep problems, recurring headaches, sinus issues, and other medical issues.

What Can Cause a Deviated Septum?

A deviated septum has two causes:
  • You were born with it.
  • You suffered an injury or trauma to the nose.

Never Miss a Beat!

Get Healthy Tips Sent to Your Phone!

Message and data rates may apply. Text the word STOP to opt out and HELP for help. Click here to view the privacy and terms.

How Common Is a Deviated Septum?

Many people have a deviated septum. According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, up to 80% of people have a septum that’s off-center. Some cases are worse than others. Milder ones may not cause any symptoms.

What Are the Symptoms of a Deviated Septum?

The symptoms of a deviated septum are:

  • Difficulty breathing through one or both nostrils.
  • Dryness in one nostril.
  • Facial pain.
  • Frequent nosebleeds.
  • Headaches.
  • Mouth-breathing during sleep.
  • Nasal congestion.
  • One nostril completely blocked.
  • Postnasal drip.
  • Recurrent sinus infections.
  • Sleep apnea.

A deviated septum usually isn’t visible unless it’s severe enough to make your nose look crooked.

Deviated Septum Surgery

Septoplasty is the medical term for deviated septum surgery and is typically performed by an ear, nose, and throat specialist or plastic surgeon. A routine septoplasty will not typically affect the outward appearance of your nose. However, surgery may make the nose appear straighter for those with a visible deformity.

Who Is a Candidate for Deviated Septum Surgery?

If a deviated septum interferes with your breathing and sleep, your doctor may recommend surgery. They might combine septoplasty with procedures to remove nasal polyps or improve chronic sinus infections.

Can You Fix a Deviated Septum Without Surgery?

Your doctor may recommend other treatments before surgery. These treatments won’t correct the deviated septum but may relieve symptoms. Some of those options are:

  • Antihistamines.
  • Decongestants.
  • Nasal steroid sprays.
  • Nasal dilating strips or nasal cones.

What to Expect From Deviated Septum Surgery

Doctors usually perform deviated septum surgery on an outpatient basis. You can usually go home the same day but will need someone to drive you there.

Are you put to sleep for deviated septum surgery?

Surgeons occasionally use a local anesthetic to numb the area (and not put you asleep). More typically, the procedure is performed under general anesthesia (where you are asleep). The procedure typically takes about 90 minutes.

Sometimes plastic surgeons combine septoplasty with rhinoplasty, which changes the outward appearance of your nose.

How is the surgery performed?

In most cases, doctors perform the procedure through the inside of the nose. More extreme cases may require a functional septorhinoplasty, which combines incisions inside the nose with a small, well-hidden incision between the nostrils. The surgeon will trim, repair, or replace the cartilage and bone to straighten the septum.

After surgery, your doctor will place hollow splints in the nose to reduce bleeding. The splints also help stabilize the newly reconstructed septum. These splints are removed in the doctor’s office typically within five to seven days.

How long is the recovery from deviated septum surgery?

People can return to most normal activities five to seven days after surgery. Heavy physical activity and lifting can cause bleeding, so avoid them for about a week. You should also avoid blowing your nose until it has healed completely.

For most patients, the effects of deviated septum subside once the nose is healed. Be sure to discuss the risks and benefits of septoplasty with your doctor.

When Should You See a Doctor for a Deviated Septum?

If a deviated septum interferes with your breathing or sleep, consult your primary care doctor. If the problem is severe, they may recommend an ear, nose, and throat specialist.

The surgeons at UPMC Facial Plastic Surgery also perform septoplasties and other reconstructive procedures. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, call 412-621-0123.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About Ear Nose and Throat

The experts in the UPMC Department of Otolaryngology treat a variety of ear, nose, and throat (ENT) conditions in both children and adults. Our team includes board-certified physicians and highly skilled speech-language pathologists and audiologists. We provide both surgical and nonsurgical treatment options. Our research and clinical trials help to advance care for our patients. Find an ENT expert near you.