If you have a deviated septum, it means that the thin wall that divides your nasal cavity is off-center. This condition is surprisingly common – up to 80% of people have a deviated septum.
A deviated septum doesn’t always cause problems. And often, people don’t even know they have one. But sometimes the symptoms of a deviated septum can be more serious and affect the quality of your life.
The good news is that there are ways to get bothersome symptoms under control. So, what’s the best treatment for a deviated septum? What happens if you don’t treat a deviated septum? Read on to learn about effective treatments.
How to treat a deviated septum at home
A deviated septum reduces the amount of space in one of your nasal passages – sometimes by a little, and sometimes by a lot. If you have a very small nasal passage, it’s more likely that your nasal passage will get blocked, and you’ll have bothersome symptoms.
But a nasal deviation isn’t the only reason why you may have nasal symptoms. If the tissues lining the inside of your nose are swollen or inflamed, it can make a small space even smaller – and this can make nasal congestion and breathing problems even worse.
Treatments for the inflammation and swelling in your nasal cavity won’t fix a deviated septum but they can decrease or eliminate your symptoms – and reduce your chances of nasal polyps, chronic sinusitis and other conditions that affect your nose. Options may include:
Treating allergies and asthma
Respiratory conditions increase inflammation and swelling in your nose. That’s why managing the symptoms of seasonal allergies or asthma is very important to people with a deviated septum.
If you’re not sure if you have allergies or if you’ve been unable to get your symptoms under control, make an appointment with your primary care doctor.
Nasal corticosteroid sprays
Nasal sprays are used to reduce swelling in the nose and can help with drainage. These sprays are generally safe to take every day, but it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before taking any new medication. Popular brands of over-the-counter corticosteroid sprays include Flonase, Rinocort and Nasacort.
Decongestants reduce the swelling in your nose, helping to open up your airways. But decongestants shouldn’t be used for more than a few days in a row without a doctor’s recommendation. Regular use of decongestants can increase your blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar levels. Plus, it’s possible to become dependent on decongestants and your symptoms will get worse if you stop taking them.
Antihistamines can help prevent a stuffy or runny nose. While usually used for allergies, these medicines can sometimes help for nonallergic conditions. The downside is that they can make you tired and limit your ability to drive or perform physical activities.
Using a humidifier
Dry air can irritate the lining of your nose. Using a humidifier moistens the air, calming your nasal passages and making it easier to breathe.
Using a neti pot or saline spray moistens the nasal passages and reduces inflammation. You can buy neti pots and saline sprays in the pharmacy or online.
Among those who have a deviated septum, smokers have more severe symptoms than nonsmokers and need to use more medications to get their symptoms under control. That’s because smoking reduces your body’s natural defenses and irritates the nasal passages. Quitting smoking can help reduce nasal inflammation – and improve the quality of your life in countless other ways.
Can you fix a deviated septum without surgery?
While you can manage the symptoms of a deviated septum with home treatment, it’s usually not possible to fix a deviated septum without surgery. The exception is a deviated septum caused by a recent injury.
If you’re able to see an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor within 48 hours, it’s possible that they may be able to push the septum back in place. But don’t try to fix your nasal septum yourself since you may cause additional damage.
Surgical options for a deviated septum
If home remedies for a deviated septum don’t provide relief, it may be time to consider surgery to fix your deviated septum. So, what is deviated septum surgery?
Septoplasty to repair your deviated septum
The surgery to correct a deviated septum is called a septoplasty.
The procedure doesn’t usually change the outside shape of your nose, rather it fixes what’s going on inside your nose. But if your septum is extremely crooked, it’s possible that the surgery will make your nose straighter.
Septoplasty involves straightening the nasal septum and repositioning it in the center of your nose. As part of the procedure, your doctor may need to cut out parts of the septum before placing them in the appropriate position. They may also use cartilage grafts to correct the deviation.
After they’ve repaired your deviated septum, your doctor may place splints or soft plastic sheets inside your nose to help the septum heal straight.
The surgery itself usually takes about an hour and is performed under local or general anesthesia. At HealthPartners, our surgeons work with you to choose the sedation that fits your needs and preferences. We’ll make sure you're as comfortable as possible during surgery.
Rhinoplasty to change the shape of your nose
People sometimes choose to have a cosmetic procedure called a rhinoplasty at the same time as their septoplasty surgery. This combined procedure is often referred to as a septorhinoplasty.
Rhinoplasty fixes the outside of your nose and can remove the outward signs of a deviated septum. If your nose is crooked or bent, rhinoplasty can be used to:
- Reshape cartilage to change the tip of your nose
- Remove a hump by shaving down bones
- Correct the deviation by breaking and resetting the nasal bones
Timeline for deviated septum surgery recovery
How long does it take for a septum to heal after surgery? It usually takes about 3 months for a nasal septum to fully heal. But you should start to notice some improvements in your symptoms and breathing within 1-2 weeks of surgery. Here’s the typical timeline for recovery from deviated septum surgery:
The day of deviated septum surgery
You should be able to go home on the same day as the surgery, but you won’t be able to drive. So, it’s a good idea to arrange transportation in advance.
Your nose will be sore and you’ll probably have bloody discharge from the nose. You will also feel congested and probably won’t be able to breathe through your nose. Your doctor will recommend or prescribe medications to help manage pain or discomfort as you heal.
The week of deviated septum surgery
You’ll return to the clinic a few days after your surgery for a follow-up appointment. The doctor will examine your nose to see how it’s healing. They’ll also remove splints or packing materials that are in your nose.
1-2 weeks after deviated septum surgery
Within 1-2 weeks of surgery, you should start to feel better and have less discomfort, swelling and discharge. You should also feel less congested and be able to breathe through your nose again.
Many people feel ready to return to work a week after surgery.
3-4 weeks after deviated septum surgery
Your nose will feel a lot better, and you should notice significant improvement in your breathing. Your nostrils may continue to look uneven as the nasal septum heals and the swelling goes down.
5-6 weeks after deviated septum surgery
The symptoms related to your deviated septum should be mostly gone. Talk to your doctor if you’re still experiencing breathing problems, congestion or headaches – or if your nostrils continue to look uneven.
Can a deviated septum come back after surgery?
Yes, it’s possible for a deviated septum to come back after surgery, but it’s very rare. If this happens, your doctor may suggest revision surgery to fix the deviated septum, a different type of surgery or nonsurgical options.
Self-care: What to expect after deviated septum surgery
The recovery process is a little different for each person. Your doctor will provide you specific information about what you’ll need to do after surgery. Here are some tips for self-care after your procedure:
- Don’t blow your nose for a week – Even though you’ll feel congested, you shouldn’t blow your nose for at least a week. Blowing your nose can interrupt the healing process.
- Ice your face – Frequent use of ice packs on your nose, eyes and cheeks will help to reduce swelling and increase comfort in the first few days after surgery.
- Rinse your nose with saline – Doing a saline rinse with a neti pot or squeeze bottle can gently remove the crud in your nasal passages and reduce congestion. We recommend rinsing 2-4 times a day during the first week.
- Avoid heavy exercise – Exercising increases blood flow throughout your body, and that includes your nose. Light walking should be fine, but you’ll need to hold off on vigorous exercise until you have the go-ahead from your doctor – usually in two weeks.
- Keep your head elevated – When you bend over or lie down, it sends extra blood to your nose. For the first few days after the surgery, having extra blood in your nose could cause a nosebleed. So, you’ll need to keep your head up as much as possible. When you sleep, prop up your head with pillows.
- Don’t smoke or drink – Smoking and drinking increase inflammation in your body and makes it harder for you to heal. It’s best if you avoid smoking and drinking for two weeks, or longer if possible.
- Watch what you eat and drink – Don’t eat hot or spicy foods for the first few days after surgery since they can be irritating and make your nose run. It’s also important to make sure that you’re drinking enough – it’s hard for your body to heal if you’re dehydrated.
How much is deviated septum surgery?
Without insurance, a septoplasty can cost up to $12,000, not including pre-procedural or post-procedural care. Septorhinoplasty can cost $30,000 or more.
Does insurance cover deviated septum surgery?
The good news is that most insurance companies will cover at least a portion of the surgery if it’s medically necessary to reduce nasal symptoms such as a blocked airway, difficulty breathing or chronic sinusitis.
If septorhinoplasty (or rhinoplasty) is being done for purely cosmetic purposes, it won’t be covered by insurance, and you’ll need to pay out-of-pocket for the entire procedure.
Your costs will also be affected by your copayment or coinsurance, remaining deductible and the costs of services that aren’t covered. Your insurance plan can help determine what costs you’ll be responsible for. If you have HealthPartners insurance, you can contact member services for more information.
Is it worth fixing a deviated septum?
Surgery to correct a deviated septum is common and generally safe, but it’s still a major surgery. So when considering if the surgery would be worthwhile for you, consider your symptoms and the severity of your deviated septum.
Symptoms that are caused by your deviated septum – for example, breathing problems and headaches from nasal blockage – may go away completely.
But symptoms related to soft tissues, such as nasal congestion from asthma or allergies won’t go away after surgery and you’ll likely need to continue to manage those symptoms with at-home remedies.
What happens if you don’t treat a deviated septum
If you have a severely deviated septum and don’t get treatment, it could lead to complications such as:
- Dry mouth from breathing through your mouth instead of your nose
- Uncomfortable pressure in your nasal passages due to congestion
- Poor sleep or sleep disorders like sleep apnea
Getting treatment can improve your breathing and sleep quality, and reduce the number of headaches and infections you get.
If your deviated septum is minor, there may not be a lot of value in having surgery. If you have bothersome symptoms, it’s more likely that they’re related to something else – like allergies, asthma or chronic sinusitis. Talk to your doctor to see what’s causing your symptoms and what you can do to get them under control.
Treatment for your deviated septum can help you breathe easier
Having an untreated deviated septum can affect the quality of your life. If you’re struggling to manage your symptoms with at-home remedies, it’s time to get help.
If you’d like help controlling your symptoms without surgery, an appointment with a primary care doctor is a good place to start. But if you're wondering whether surgery is a good option, make an ENT appointment. Either way, our doctors will work with you to develop a treatment plan that will have you breathing easier.