A deviated septum is a condition in which the nasal septum (the bone and cartilage that divide the nose in half) is crooked, making one nasal passage smaller. If severe, it can make breathing through the nose difficult. Most people naturally have some deviation – only people with severe deviations need treatment.
What causes deviated septum?
Most people are born with a slightly crooked nasal septum, but it is often never noticed. In some people, the deviation is visible early in life.
Some people develop a deviated septum (also called deviated nasal septum, or DNS) as a result of an injury to their nose that moves the nasal septum out of position. For example, a car accident, sport, tripping over or a bump while playing around.
Deviated septum symptoms
Most people have no symptoms and don’t know even they have a deviated septum. If you have a badly deviated septum, the most common symptom is difficulty breathing through the nose, which is usually worse on one side. Some people may also have:
- a blocked nose, which may be just one nostril, or may change from one nostril to the other
- frequent sinus infections
Some people also experience more general symptoms, such as:
Deviated septum diagnosis
Your doctor will talk to you and examine you. The doctor may use a nasal endoscope — a long tube with a bright light at the tip — to see further back into your nose.
Nasal congestion can be caused by conditions other than a deviated septum. For example, you may have a different kind of structural problem inside your nose, chronic sinusitis or allergies. In rare cases, bleeding and blockage can be signs of a nasal tumour.
Deviated septum treatment
Medications designed to help you breathe through your nose may relieve the symptoms of a deviated septum, such as:
- nasal corticosteroid sprays
If medications do not help, surgery (known as septoplasty) may be needed to straighten the nasal septum. In some cases, surgery to reshape the nose (rhinoplasty) may also be needed. While nose surgery is usually safe, there is a small risk of complications such as bleeding, infection or numbness around the nose or front teeth.
Deviated septum prevention
Many people with a deviated septum were born with the condition. You may be able to prevent injuries to your nose that can lead to a deviated septum by:
- wearing a seatbelt when in a car
- wearing a helmet when playing contact sports or riding a bike
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: May 2019