What Is A Deviated Septum?

what is a deviated septum nose surgery rhinoplasty sinuses

Your nostrils or nasal passages have a thin partition called a septum that bifurcates the two. Made of cartilage and bone and covered by a mucous membrane filled with blood vessels, the septum should divide the nose equally in half. If the septum is bent or off-center, however, one nasal passage may end up being narrower than the other. This is called a deviated septum. 

Having a deviated septum isn't necessarily a big concern. In fact, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, about 80 percent of the population has a visibly-noticeable off-center septum. It is only when a deviated septum causes health problems that surgery may be necessary. 

What Health Problems Are Caused By A Deviated Septum? 

Difficulty Breathing 

One of the most common symptoms of a deviated septum is difficulty breathing. This is due to a blockage of the narrower nostril. The symptom may become more acute during an upper respiratory infection or when suffering from allergies. 


Blocked airflow in the narrower nasal passage can sometimes result in blockage of the sinus openings. This can cause the mucous membrane on the narrower side to become dry, cracked and crusted leading to recurrent nosebleeds. 

Noisy Breathing Or Snoring While Sleeping 

Noisy breathing is a common occurrence with those who have a severely deviated septum. A person with a deviated septum may also find it difficult to get a good night's sleep due to breathing difficulties. 

Sinus Infections 

A deviated septum can cause the pathway for your sinus drainage to become blocked causing frequent sinus infections. Antibiotics may help clear up infections for the short term, but unless your deviated septum is corrected, infections may continue to occur. 

Headaches And Facial Pain 

It is not uncommon to have recurrent headaches and/or facial pain connected to the nasal congestion and sinus infections associated with a deviated septum. 

Causes Of A Deviated Septum 

As noted earlier about 80 percent of people have an off-center or deviated septum. For the most part, this is congenital occurring during development of the fetus. It may also occur as a result of childbirth or be due to trauma, such as a sports injury or automobile accident. 

When Should I See A Doctor About My Deviated Septum? 

A deviated septum can result in difficulty breathing, interrupted sleep, frequent sinus infections, nosebleeds and other problematic health issues. Often the associated blockages from sinus infections can be treated adequately with a course of antibiotics. However, if your symptoms are chronic and bring you to the point where they are negatively impacting your health and quality of life, it may be time to talk to your doctor about taking a stronger course of action. 

Septoplasty is a surgical procedure to correct a deviated septum. During a septoplasty, a surgeon will make one or more small incisions in the septum inside the nose and remove, reposition or replace portions of the cartilage or bone to correct the problem. Once the surgery is completed and as part of the postoperative care, the surgeon will pack each nostril with cotton or gauze to reduce bleeding and, with a few stitches, attach an internal, plastic nasal splint in each to help stabilize the septum tissues. Septoplasty surgery is typically accomplished in 60 to 90 minutes under general anesthesia and in an outpatient setting, and most patients can expect to go home after another three to four hours. In some milder cases, surgery may be avoided entirely by employing a non-invasive, balloon-type septoplasty technique. 

Recovery Time From A Septoplasty 

Patients who elect to have a septoplasty can generally expect a small amount of discomfort from the internal splints, but they won't likely have any bruising. In most cases patients will be asked to return to their doctor in two or three days or up to a week to have the stitches and splints removed. However, while a septoplasty is surgery that addresses the functionality of the nose by making internal corrections, many patients who elect to have such surgery will combine it with a rhinoplasty, to address their nose's exterior appearance. 

What Is Rhinoplasty? Can It Treat A Deviated Septum? 

Rhinoplasty, in non-medical terms, is commonly called a "nose job". While a septoplasty focuses on making corrections to the internals of the nose to improve its function, a rhinoplasty usually involves making physical improvements to the exterior. People get nose jobs for many reasons, most of them cosmetic. Changing the shape of the nose to diminish a hump or hooked tip, to make it less bulbous or to make the bridge less broad or less narrow can greatly improve a person's appearance. It is not uncommon for persons having a septoplasty to use that time with the surgeon to also address what they may feel is an unattractive feature of their nose. Often they will choose to have a rhinoplasty performed at the same time. A successful cosmetic rhinoplasty can give a person a big boost of confidence. 

Although most people think of rhinoplasty as a cosmetic procedure, in some cases it is medically necessary for the improved functionality of the nose. This is, for obvious reasons, referred to as "functional rhinoplasty". Often the procedure is performed in tandem with internal work on the nose and when done by a double board certified surgeon like Dr. Ran Y. Rubenstein, founder of the Hudson Valley Sinus Center, the resulting improved breathing and cosmetic appeal can be astounding. Not only is Dr. Rubenstein board certified in both facial plastic surgery and otolaryngology with a sub-specialization in nose and sinus surgery, he is also the first and only ENT in the Hudson Valley who specializes in allergic, nasal and sinus disorders. 

Does Medical Insurance Cover Rhinoplasty? 

Most insurers will not cover cosmetic rhinoplasty, considering it to be an elective procedure. However, if a rhinoplasty is performed to correct structural damage or a deformity of the nose, all or a portion of the costs may be covered. As with any surgical procedure, it is important to discuss these issues with your doctor prior to surgery. In this way, you will have fewer surprises. 

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