What has gone wrong? (Pathology)
At birth, the nasal septum is usually straight and remains so during childhood. As we age the septum may bend, or an irregular shelf of cartilage or bone may grow (septal spur). Few adults have a completely straight septum. More often the septum is bent through some sort of injury.
A bent septum will narrow the nasal passage on one side, making the nose feel blocked. This can interfere with your breathing. A blockage of the nose may also cause other problems.
The sinuses, which are hollow spaces in the face bones, may not drain properly into the nose, leading to sinus infection. The small tubes (Eustachian tubes) running from the back of the nose to the ears may also become blocked. This can lead to ear infections and deafness.
Finally, a badly bent septum that is pressing against other tissues inside the nose can sometimes cause face pain and headaches.
The aim of the operation is to straighten your bent nasal septum. You will have a general anaesthetic and be completely asleep for the operation.
Straightening out your septum will improve your nasal breathing and reduce any related problems with your sinuses and ears. Any headaches or pain caused by the bent septum will go.
Are there any alternatives?
Nasal drops, sprays or tablets will not relieve an obstruction caused by a bent nasal septum. They may improve nasal breathing a little, but problems return when the treatment stops. Using nasal drops for a long time may actually damage the lining of the nose (mucosa) and make the blockage worse. The only way to repair a deviated nasal septum is through surgery.
What if you do nothing?
The bend in your septum will stay, as will the problems it causes.
Who should have it done?
If you have continued difficultly in breathing through your nose, you should see an ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon for an examination. Other things besides a crooked septum can cause nasal obstructions.
People who do have a bent septum, which is causing breathing or sinus problems, should have the septoplasty.
Who should not have it done?
People who have other medical conditions that would make it unsafe for them to have a general anaesthetic should not have one.
Author: Mr Robert Ruckley MB. ChB. F.R.C.S. Consultant ENT surgeon.
© Dumas Ltd 2006