Surgery to fix a crooked (or deviated) septum, called septoplasty, allows better airflow through the nose and may improve breathing. The septum is the cartilage that divides the nose into two nostrils. Septoplasty is usually an outpatient procedure, so most patients can go home the day of surgery. Swelling may last two to three days, but full recovery may take up to three months.

What is Septoplasty?

Septoplasty is surgery inside the nose to straighten a deviated septum. The septum, about 7 centimeters long (2.5 to 3 inches) in adults, is made of cartilage and bone. It separates the inside of the nose into two chambers or nostrils.

What is a deviated septum?

A septum is deviated if it is crooked or bent instead of straight. A deviated septum can block one or both chambers of the nose and interfere with airflow. A septum can become deviated from an injury, but it can also grow that way naturally.

How is a deviated septum diagnosed?

A doctor will examine the inside of the nose, possibly by performing a nasal endoscopy, which involves inserting a tube with a camera on the end. A computed tomography (CT) scan can also detect a deviated septum, but it is usually unnecessary. After the diagnosis, the doctor will discuss treatment options, including septoplasty.

Why is septoplasty necessary?

Septoplasty is the only way to correct a deviated septum, which can make breathing through the nose difficult and force breathing through the mouth. Mouth breathing can cause dry mouth. Inability to breathe through the nose is even more of a problem at night and can inhibit sleep.

Sometimes septoplasty is part of other medical procedures, including sinus surgery and the removal of nasal tumors. Also, although septoplasty itself does not change the nose’s shape, it can be combined with nose-shaping surgery called septorhinoplasty.

Ultimately, it is up to each patient to decide whether to undergo septoplasty to straighten a deviated septum. The condition will not hurt anyone who can tolerate the symptoms.

How does a patient prepare for septoplasty?

The doctor must know of all medications — including nonprescription drugs, supplements and herbs — the patient is taking. Before surgery, the patient should stop taking drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen and certain herbal supplements, which make it harder for blood to clot. The doctor should also know if the patient has allergies or bleeding problems.

What can I expect after septoplasty?

Since the operation is done through the nostrils, patients do not have to worry about facial scars or black eyes. However, they can experience pain or tenderness on the front of the nose, stuffiness due to swelling and nasal drainage of blood and-or mucous. Swelling from surgery may last two to three days, and drainage might continue for two to five days. Usually, over-the-counter medications will suffice for pain, although the doctor may prescribe a pain reliever. The doctor might have the patient use saline sprays or irrigation treatments to clear nasal congestion. However, if packing is in the nose, the patient will have to breathe through the mouth until the material is removed. It may take up to three months for the nose to achieve maximum clearness.

When should I call my doctor after septoplasty?

Call the doctor or surgeon if you experience: