A deviated septum occurs when the thin wall (nasal septum) between the nostrils is displaced to one side. In most cases, the nasal septum is displaced or deviated making one nasal passage smaller.
A severe deviated septum can block one side of the nose and reduce airflow resulting in difficulty breathing. Reduced airflow can cause a drying effect and lead to nasal crusting or bleeding in some people.
Nasal obstruction can occur from a deviated septum, from swelling of the tissues lining the nose or from both. The nasal obstruction can be treated with certain medications to open the nasal passages but surgery is required to correct a deviated septum.
Most septal deformities may show no symptoms; however, in some cases, septal deformities can cause the following symptoms:
- Obstruction of one or both nostrils: difficulty breathing, which is more noticeable during an upper respiratory tract infection or allergies.
- Nosebleeds: this may result from a dry surface of the nasal septum.
- Facial pain: a severe deviated septum that impacts the inside nasal wall is a possible cause.
- Noisy breathing during sleep
- Preference for sleeping on a particular side: to optimize breathing through the nose at night.
Possible causes of a deviated septum:
- Developmental (congenital) deviated septum
- Nose injury (occurs most commonly during contact sports, active play, car accidents)
The normal aging process may affect nasal structures, worsening a deviated septum over time. Also, changes in the amount of swelling of nasal tissues, because of developing rhinitis or rhinosinusitis, can accentuate the narrowing of a nasal passage from a deviated septum, resulting in nasal obstruction.
Factors that increase the risk of a deviated septum include:
- Playing contact sports
- Not wearing a seat belt while riding in a motorized vehicle
A severely deviated septum that causes nasal obstruction can lead to the following complications:
- Dry mouth (due to chronic mouth breathing)
- Pressure or congestion in the nasal passages
- Disturbed sleep (due to difficulty breathing through the nose)
Injuries to the nose that can cause a deviated septum may be prevented by:
- Wearing a helmet when playing contact sports
- Wearing a seat belt and helmet when riding in or on motorized vehicles (automobiles, motorbikes etc)