Your septum is the cartilage in your nose that separates your nostrils. Normally, the septum is located in the center of your nose and divides the nostrils evenly. However, this is not always the case. When one nostril is larger than the other, this means that your septum is off-center, which is referred to as a deviated septum. Most people with a deviated septum are not even aware of the condition. But if the unevenness is severe, this could cause symptoms that need medical attention.
According to The University of Chicago Medicine, about 80% of all septa are deviated to some degree. However, most of these people have only minor deviations and will likely not experience any symptoms at all. However, symptoms are possible for more severe cases of a deviated septum and may include:
Difficulty breathing: The most common symptom of a deviated septum is difficulty breathing through the nose. This is because a deviated septum often causes obstruction of one or both nostrils.
Sinus infections: Difficulty breathing is often much more noticeable when you have an upper respiratory tract infection or allergies that cause your nasal passages to swell and narrow.
Dryness: If you are only breathing through one nostril, this can cause the surface of your nasal septum to become very dry and painful.
Nosebleeds: Septum dryness can also lead to cracking and frequent nosebleeds, especially during the colder months.
Sleep disruptions: It is common for people with a deviated septum to snore or breathe loudly while they sleep. It is also common to prefer sleeping on one side where it is the easiest to breathe. In rare cases, a deviated septum can cause sleep apnea, which is a disruption in your breathing while you sleep and can be dangerous.
Facial pain: If the deviation is severe enough, it could also lead to pain on one side of the face.
When to See Your Doctor
Most of the time, a deviated septum is nothing to worry about. However, there are certain circumstances that would require medical attention. If you have a completely blocked nostril or nostrils that will not respond to treatment, are experiencing frequent nosebleeds, or have recurring sinus infections, this would all be cause to call your doctor and explore your potential treatment options.
When you do go in to see your doctor, he or she will likely be able to diagnose a deviated septum by looking inside your nose. Special tools may be used for examination, such as a bright light and a nasal speculum, which helps to spread your nostrils open while your doctor is taking a look. A scope may also be used to look farther back inside your nose.
After an examination, your doctor will be able to determine the seriousness of your deviated septum and know whether or not you need to be referred to an ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialist to look at your condition and explore treatment options.