Not everything in this world is created equal. Some cuts of steak are superior to others, some whiskeys win awards and others don’t, and maybe one of your nostrils is just bigger than the other.
About 80% of Americans have a nasal septum that isn’t quite centered. The nasal septum is that little divider of cartilage and bone between your two nostrils. Most of the human body is asymmetrical to some degree, and often a little wayward nasal septum with unequal nostrils isn’t too big of a deal. However, when this nasal septum really goes off-course, it can result in a medical condition known as a deviated septum.
Causes of a Deviated Septum
Studies tell us that up to 30% of babies can be affected by a deviated nasal septum. It is thought that a deviated septum may occur during development in the womb but can also be a result of trauma during the birthing process. In some cases, a septal deviation is simply a result of genetics.
The degree of a septal deviation can change throughout life as you age. The normal aging process can cause what used to be a mild, unproblematic deviation to worsen with time.
Trauma to the face and nose is often the culprit behind a deviated septum occurring later in life. Nasal septum deviations from injuries tend to be at more severe angles. They can come about from motor vehicle accidents, contact sports, or any other accident as a result of your nose just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Six (6) Symptoms of a Deviated Nasal Septum
It’s not uncommon to have a deviated nasal septum and be entirely unaware. The symptoms of a deviated septum are not specific and could potentially be dismissed as something else or just ignored altogether. Although a deviated nasal septum isn’t likely to kill you (for young infants this can be a different story), why put up with its bothersome symptoms if you don’t have to? If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms it may be worth getting checked out.
- Nasal congestion. This can often be worse on one side than the other although having two stuffy nostrils at the same time isn’t unknown. The congestion from a deviated septum typically doesn’t respond well to decongestants or allergy medications. Having a concurrent cold or other upper respiratory tract infection, or during allergy season, can exacerbate your congestion.
- Frequent nosebleeds. With one nasal passage being wider than the other, this can affect the flow of air through your nose. If the mucous membranes in your nasal passages are drying out, it can make you more prone to nosebleeds.
- A dry and crusty nose. No one wants to be known as dry and crusty. Unfortunately, with the disrupted airflow from a deviated septum dehydrating those nasal mucous membranes, that may be exactly what your nose is.
- Noisy breathing. Perhaps you’ve noticed you can whistle through your nose or maybe sleeping next to you feels like sleeping beside a raging ocean. A deviated septum can result in snoring and sleep apnea symptoms at night due to the obstruction in your nose.
- Sinus pain and headache. A deviated septum can increase pressure in the sinuses of your face, resulting in pain around your nose, forehead, and eyes. Another possible theory behind facial pain related to a deviated septum is if the displacement is large enough such that the walls of one nostril press against each other, resulting in pressure and discomfort.
- Tendency for side–sleeping. Have you noticed that it’s easier to breathe if you lie on one particular side when you sleep? If one nostril is narrowed due to a deviated septum, you may find yourself preferring to sleep on the side opposite to the blocked nostril.
Maybe I Do Have a Deviated Septum!
If you suspect you may have a deviated nasal septum, a visit to your ENT doctor for a peek up your nose can help to confirm this.
If you’re not bothered by your nose and your breathing, nothing needs to be done. However, the more troublesome symptoms of a mild deviated septum can be treated with medications at the discernment of your doctor, though medications won’t fix the deviation itself. In persistent cases, your ENT doctor may suggest a corrective procedure to straighten the septum, known as a septoplasty. In some cases, this may also be combined with a rhinoplasty to adjust the shape of your nose, known as a septorhinioplasty.
So, don’t feel the need to snuffle and snort your way through the day if you don’t have to. Get checked out and get treated if you have to.