When you close your mouth and take a deep breath does the air flow easily through both sides of your nose? Or is your nose making it harder for you to breathe freely?
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A surprising number of people — more than one-third of the population — are unknowingly living with a deviated septum. That means the cartilage that divides the nasal passage is crooked or uneven, making one side narrower than the other.
But not everyone who has a deviated septum requires intervention for it. Many people have no symptoms.
However, for some people, this condition can make illnesses more severe and cause other problems as well, says head and neck specialist Kyra Osborne, MD.
You can have a deviated septum for a number of reasons, she says.
“If you’ve broken your nose or had any sort of trauma to the face, you can develop a deviated septum,” she says. “In many cases, people don’t even know they’ve broken their nose or had a serious enough injury. But it can also happen from birth — just from the pressure of the birth canal. The cartilage may grow in a crooked manner.”
5 signs you have a deviated septum
There are several problems you can experience if you have a deviated septum. It can cause other conditions or make certain illnesses worse. Here are the five most common issues:
- Difficulty breathing — Nasal misalignment makes it harder for air to pass through one half of your nose, so it’s more difficult for you to breathe. This problem often comes to light when you have a cold or allergies, Dr. Osborne says.
- Nasal congestion/headaches — Because air doesn’t always flow freely through your nasal passages, your head can sometimes feel stuffy. That built-up pressure can lead to occasional headaches. The extra pressure in your sinuses can also make your face feel sore and painful.
- Nosebleeds — When you have a curved septum, air has a harder time passing through your nose. This makes it more likely to dry out the membranes in your nose. This lack of moisture makes you more susceptible to nosebleeds.
- Sinus infections — The more clogged your airway is, the more likely you are to develop frequent sinus infections.
- Snoring/disrupted sleep — When you sleep, nasal congestion from a deviated septum can lead to loud breathing and snoring. If you’re having trouble breathing, you may have a hard time getting to sleep and staying asleep. In some cases, a deviated septum can contribute to sleep apnea, a potentially serious condition where breathing stops during sleep.
Getting it fixed
Whether you’ve had your deviated septum from birth or developed one after a face or nose injury, your doctor likely can diagnose the problem with a physical exam.
A nasal steroid spray can sometimes correct the issue, Dr. Osborne says. If not, you may need surgery to straighten the septum. (It’s typically an outpatient procedure.)
If snoring is your main issue, there may be an even simpler fix. “In some cases, sleeping with the head of the bed elevated can help alleviate some snoring,” she says.
It’s a good idea to consult with your doctor if you suspect you have a deviated septum. Even if you end up needing surgery to correct the problem, it’s worth it. Once your nose heals, it will no longer work against you when you take a deep breath. And you may leave a whole host of other problems behind as well.