The nasal septum is essentially a divider. The septum runs down the centre of the nose, splitting it into two nostrils, ideally of equal size. The Mayo Clinic estimates that as much as 80 per cent of the population have a nasal septum that is not quite in the centre of the nose, making one side bigger than the other. For most people, this is a minor problem. Some people, however, have problems due to the inequality of the nasal airways. In these cases, the septum is referred to as a deviated septum. A deviated septum may be an abnormality from birth, or it may be the result of an injury. Severe cases of this medical condition can require surgery to correct.
A deviated septum is not always visible when looking at a person's nose. A doctor, however, can see it clearly during an examination. A nasal speculum and special lighting will often make a deviated septum look crooked. Swelling may also be visible if frequent sinus infections are a problem. The nasal passages may also be markedly different in size when viewed internally. A deviated septum can be diagnosed by physical examination and through a medical history of symptoms.
A person who has a deviated septum is more likely to have nosebleeds and increased nasal discharge. When the septum is deviated, it is more prone to dryness that can contribute to bleeding. Blocked nasal passages that are a result of a deviated septum can cause mucus to get stuck inside the nasal cavity, creating more post-nasal discharge (commonly called a "drip") down the throat. The backup of nasal discharge can also create a breeding ground for infection, and thus added amounts of mucus.
Breathing difficulties are common in people who suffer from a deviated septum, especially when one nostril is significantly larger than the other. In this case, one passageway can become almost completely obstructed and can hamper breathing. Noisy breathing is another symptom consistent with a deviated septum, especially in babies and children who have the condition. Increased noise with breathing occurs mainly at night as a result of the crookedness of the nasal wall.
Facial pain and frequent headaches can be a sign of a deviated septum, mostly due to the increased occurrence of sinus infections and blocked nasal secretions. If post-nasal drip is one of the symptoms displayed, sore throat may also be another source of pain that is related to the deviated septum. Discomfort from normal colds and seasonal allergies may be heightened by a deviated septum.
Decongestant and antihistamine mediations may be helpful in relieving some of the symptoms caused by a deviated septum. Medications will not fix the deviation, but can lessen the amount of congestion that results, and may reduce inflammation of the nasal passages during a sinus infection or a cold. Surgery to repair the crooked septum is the only permanent treatment for a deviated septum. It is usually performed only when significant breathing complications exist.