The septum is the piece of cartilage that separates the nostrils and provides structure for the nose. In some people, the septum becomes crooked or enlarged on one side. When this happens, air does not flow equally between the nostrils, which can lead to breathing problems and other issues. Deviated septum surgery is a procedure to reposition the septum and correct any airflow issues.
The septum is surprisingly fragile, and having a crooked or deviated septum is very common. It most often occurs at birth or after an injury, which can push the septum out of place or simply injure one side of it. As the septum heals, it tends to bulge on the side where it was injured. A deviation tends to get worse over time, so even mild childhood injuries that originally presented no problems can result in airflow issues years or decades later.
Symptoms of a deviated septum can include:
- Nasal congestion and post-nasal drip
- Recurrent nosebleeds
- Chronic sinus infections
- An uncomfortable blocked feeling in the nose
- Snoring or sleep apnea
There are different types of surgery used to correct a deviated septum. Septoplasty straightens and centers the septum, removing tissue only if it is necessary to make space for the repositioned septum. Submucosal resection or SMR removes part of the septum to open up the airways. It is called submucosal because the mucous lining of the nose is carefully left in place, which helps keep the nose moist and protected. Deviated septum surgery is sometimes done along with other nasal surgeries, such as a turbinate reduction to remove inflamed turbinate tissue, or a rhinoplasty to correct structural problems in the nose.
Depending on what type of surgery was performed, you can expect the procedure to take one to two hours. It is almost always performed through the nostrils, so there will be no scars. After surgery, you may experience congestion as the septum heals, but it is important not to blow your nose. You may have drainage or bandages, and sometimes you need to keep your head elevated for a few days. Recovery is fairly quick, and you should be breathing easier within one to two weeks.