Deviated septum: Symptoms and causes
Does it seem like there’s always something going on with your nose?
There’s constant congestion, bloody noses, post-nasal drip, loud breathing and snoring – and that’s just for starters. Maybe you’ve had these symptoms for as long as you can remember. Or perhaps, the symptoms started after an injury to your nose. What’s going on?
It’s possible you have a deviated septum, an extremely common condition where the divider inside your nose is off to one side. If your nasal deviation is significant, it can lead to different nasal symptoms.
Read on to learn more about deviated septum symptoms and what can cause this common condition.
What is a deviated septum?
The inside of your nose – the part that’s called the nasal cavity – is separated into right and left halves by a thin wall made from cartilage and bone. This wall is called the nasal septum. The nasal septum supports your nose and directs airflow in and out of your body.
If you have a deviated septum, it means your nasal septum isn’t straight – it’s off-center and the sides of your nasal cavity aren’t the same size. This can affect breathing and cause bothersome symptoms like constant nasal congestion and frequent headaches.
Having a deviated septum is extremely common. In fact, you’re more likely to have a nasal septum that’s off-center than one that’s perfectly centered – health care professionals estimate that 4 out of 5 people have a deviated septum.
How can you tell if you have a deviated septum?
A minor deviation of your nasal septum won’t change how your nose works – so you probably won’t even notice it. But if your deviated septum is more severe, there may be more noticeable symptoms.
Deviated septum symptoms
So, what problems can a deviated septum cause? The following are some of the more common symptoms:
- Nasal congestion that blocks both or one side of your nostril
- Noisy or difficult breathing
- Nosebleeds or nasal scabs
- Headaches or pain around your nose and face
- Snoring or sleep apnea
- Sneezing attacks
- Postnasal drip
- Sinus infections
- Chronic sinusitis
- Ear infections
If you have one or more of these symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have a deviated septum – all these symptoms can be caused by other conditions. A primary care doctor or an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist can give you an official diagnosis. There are also some signs of a deviated septum that you can look for on your own, which we’ll discuss in more detail below.
egardless of what may be causing your nasal symptoms, if those symptoms are affecting your daily life, make an appointment with a primary care doctor or ENT. There are treatments that can help, no matter what’s causing the symptoms.
What does a deviated septum look like?
If you have a severely deviated septum, your nose may look crooked from the front or sides. But for some people, their nose may look straight, and they could still have a deviated septum.
The underside of your nose can be a better indicator of a deviated septum. The easiest way to get a good look at your nostrils is to use your smart phone to take a picture or video of your nostrils. A mirror can work too.
If your nostrils are very different in size or lean to one side, you may have a deviated septum. But if you have a bend in the nasal septum farther up in the nasal cavity, it wouldn’t be noticeable from the outside.
You may also wonder: Can you feel a deviated septum with your finger? If you have a severely deviated septum, you may be able to feel that the nasal septum is off-center when you run your finger down the center of your nose. But, in most cases, a deviated septum can’t be identified through touch.
Deviated septum self-test
Another way to tell if you have a deviated septum is to do a breathing test at home. Here’s how it works:
- Use a finger to hold one of your nostrils closed.
- Breathe in, paying attention to how the air flows in and out of the open nostril. Is breathing through that nostril easy or does it seem like the airflow is blocked?
- Hold down your other nostril and repeat the breathing exercise.
- Compare how the air flows between your nostrils. If you have a harder time breathing through one nostril, you may have a deviated septum.
This test isn’t always 100% accurate. The best way to know if you have a deviated septum is to get a diagnosis from your doctor or an ear, nose and throat doctor.
What causes a deviated septum?
A deviated septum is common and can occur for these various reasons:
Normal growth development
Remember how we said that most people have a deviated septum? Well, it’s not because most people have been whacked on the nose. Rather, the main cause of a deviated septum is normal human development. In other words, as your nose grows, your nasal septum grows – and sometimes the septum grows off-center. It’s that simple.
Injuries to the nose
Nose injuries are another common reason for a deviated septum. If your nose is hit with enough force, it can move the septum out of position. The septum may move even if your nose isn’t broken or if your injuries seem mild.
Injuries to the nasal septum can happen during contact sports, automobile accidents, getting hit on the nose in an accident or fight.
Studies show that about 20% of babies have a deviated septum at birth. Sometimes a deviated septum develops while the baby is growing inside the womb and the baby is born with it. A deviated septum can also be an injury that occurs during birth.
Can you push a deviated septum back into place?
If your deviated septum is a result of an accident within the last couple of days, it’s possible that an ENT doctor may be able to push it back into place. But don’t try to fix your deviated septum yourself since it’s very possible that you might cause further damage to your nose.
Will a deviated septum go away on its own?
No. To correct a deviated septum, you’ll need surgery. But you may not need surgery if you’re able to manage symptoms with at-home treatments for a deviated septum.
Talk with a doctor about your deviated septum symptoms
If you’re having difficulty breathing or your symptoms are affecting your quality of life, a good first step is to make a primary care appointment.
Your primary care doctor or clinician can help determine if you have a deviated septum and the best treatments for your symptoms. And if necessary, they can refer you to an ENT doctor for more advanced care.
But if you’d prefer to talk to an ENT about your symptoms, that’s okay too. You don’t need a referral to make an appointment.