The Nose Knows

How Do You Know If You Or Your Child Has A Deviated Septum?

You may not have known to look for these 7+ signs.

The signs of a deviated septum can include chronic stuffiness, pressure, and frequent nosebleeds.
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For the longest time, whenever I heard of a "deviated septum," I always thought of the prom video episode in Friends when everyone notices Rachel's nose is different than it was in high school, and she says that she had her nose reduced due to a deviated septum. That cultural reference aside, such are the things you start to wonder about more seriously as the years go by — especially if you have children (then you literally worry about anything and everything that could affect them). So, what is a deviated septum anyway? And how can you tell if you or your child might have one?

According to pediatrician Dr. Bidisha Sarkar from ClinicSpots, a deviated septum "is a condition in which the nasal septum, the thin wall of cartilage that divides the inside of the nose into two chambers, is off-center or crooked." This can cause breathing difficulties, including breathing through one side of your nose, and other issues, such as frequent sinus infections, sleep apnea, snoring, and chronic congestion. Additionally, it can cause headaches and facial pain due to increased pressure in the affected area. In most cases, you're either born with a deviated septum or acquire it through a nasal injury, like a broken nose.

Fortunately, the condition is treatable. Curious if you or your child is like Rachel and have a deviated septum? Then read on for what you need to know.

What are the symptoms of a deviated septum in an adult?

Sarkar says adults with a deviated septum may experience the following symptoms:

  • Frequent nosebleeds.
  • Congestion and difficulty breathing.
  • Pain or pressure in the face.
  • Snoring when sleeping.
  • Frequent sinus infections.
  • Headaches.
  • Any trauma to the face can cause a previously undiagnosed septal deviation to be revealed.

What are the symptoms in a child?

In children, Sarkar says symptoms of a deviated septum are typically similar to those seen in adults. "However, since many children have not experienced enough physical trauma for a previously-unnoticed deviation to be revealed, diagnosis of the condition is often delayed until adolescence," she explains. "Additionally, because younger children are often unable to communicate all of their symptoms, parents should be alert for signs such as excessive snoring or frequent sinus infections."

Because a deviated septum can alter the nasal airflow patterns, Dr. Jacob D. Steiger, M.D. of Steiger Facial Plastic Surgery, explains that it can create recurring nosebleeds in a child. "It can also cause chronic stuffiness/congestion, especially on one side of the nose," he tells Scary Mommy. "This can cause difficulty breathing through the nose. Severe cases may even cause chronic sinus infections."

While the symptoms are similar to an adult, Steiger points out that a child's nose grows before they enter their teenage years. "This can oftentimes improve the symptoms of a deviated septum as more room is available for airflow," he says. "In some instances, the growth spurt can also make the symptoms worse."

What should you do if you suspect you or your child has a deviated septum?

If you suspect you or your child has a deviated septum, Sarkar recommends seeking medical advice from an ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialist. "They will measure the deviation and offer treatment options that could help reduce the severity of its effects," she says.

If a deviated septum is creating a nasal obstruction affecting your quality of life, Steiger says that surgery, known as septoplasty, may be necessary to correct this.

"Sometimes there may be other reasons related to the form and structure of the nose that can also create breathing issues as well," he says. "This is called nasal valve collapse. In these cases, a septorhinoplasty surgery may be necessary. It is best to seek out the care of a Board-Certified Facial Plastic Surgeon or Otolaryngologist to determine the cause of nasal obstruction and the remedies that may be necessary to repair them."

Can you live with a deviated septum?

Yes, it is possible to live with a deviated septum without any treatments, says Sarkar. However, if you are experiencing difficulty breathing or other symptoms related to the condition, it is important to seek medical advice so that any necessary treatments can be discussed to improve your quality of life. You've got enough on your plate without adding chronic nosebleeds and congestion to the mix.