A nose doctor

Deviated Septum: 10 Terms to Know

An estimated 80% of people have at least a mildly deviated septum and don’t even know it! The septum, whether because of the way it initially formed or due to injury, becomes misplaced, making one nasal passage smaller than the other. This can cause a series of sinus related issues, like difficulty breathing and chronic nosebleeds. Here is a look at a few terms to get familiar with the condition. 

  1. Nasal septum: The wall of bone and cartilage covered by tissue that passes straight up the center of your nose, separating it into a pair of nostrils, is the nasal septum. With a normal nasal septum, the nostrils are identically sized and spaced; a deviated septum, however, creates two differently sized nostrils that can cause problems.
  2. Turbinate: Turbinates are areas of tissue-covered bone that project into the nasal cavity. These can become inflamed and cause a stuffy nose. While the three turbinates can be problematic in tandem with other issues (like allergies), combined with a deviated septum this can result in essentially chronic obstructions. 
  3. Obstruction: An obstruction caused by a deviated septum makes it difficult to breathe. It may be excessive drainage or inflammed nasal tissue and may affect only one nostril (generally the one made smaller by the septum’s deviation), both, or alternate between the two during the nasal cycle.
  4. Nasal cycle: Although the nasal cycle occurs naturally, it is not normally evident. One of the symptoms of a deviated septum is an awareness of alternately clogged nostrils or nasal passageways. This inability to breathe from one nostril can be a key indicator that something more than just being “stuffed up” is going on. 
  5. Rhinitis: While a deviated septum can be caused by trauma to the nose or as a congenital defect, it can also get worse as time goes on. This may be simply because of aging nasal structures, but the presence of illnesses such as rhinitis can increase symptoms as well. Rhinitis is the body’s response to allergens in the air; the body releases histamine and common allergy symptoms—including excessive fluid in the nose—follow.
  6. Nasal speculum: In order to properly diagnose a deviated septum, physicians have to get a good look at it. A nasal speculum allows doctors to peer into the nose while holding the nostrils open wider than normal. This special speculum is usually a metal instrument that looks similar to a pair of pliers with a nostril-shaped tip.
  7. Septoplasty: Although many cases of deviated septums can be managed with simple medications, these will not always alleviate symptoms, and they certainly don’t cure them. In more extreme cases, septoplasty may be necessary. Septoplasty is a surgery to move the nasal tissue out of the way, recentering and straightening out the nasal septum, and then stitching everything back together. 
  8. Turbinectomy: In some cases, during surgery for a deviated septum, one or more of the turbinates must be taken out or at least made smaller to ease symptoms of a deviated septum. The removal of these nasal tissues is called a turbinectomy. Although it is common in septoplasties, turbinectomies may be necessary in other situations as well. 
  9. Rhinoplasty: More commonly associated with the plastic surgery set, rhinoplasty may be an option for promoting healing in the case of the deviated septum. The cartilage and bones of the nose are reshaped or resized to allow better breathing.
  10. Nasal splints: Stitches aren’t always sufficient. In some cases, nasal splints must also be placed internally or externally to promote healing after septoplasty. They allow air to continue flowing while encouraging good drainage and preventing the nostrils from getting blocked as easily while the nose gets used to its new shape. Most options look roughly like a large, sturdy straw attached to a semi-circular supporting piece. 
Last Updated: January 04, 2016