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About the Procedure

Septoplasty (SEP-toe-plas-tee) is a surgical procedure to correct a deviated septum. The septum is the wall of bone and cartilage that divides your nose into two separate nostrils. A deviated septum occurs when your septum is moved to one side of your nose. Some people were born that way. For others, a nose injury was to blame.

Why is it Done?

Having some deviation of the septum is common, but when a deviated septum is severe, airflow is reduced and it can become hard to breathe. If your deviated septum blocks one or both nostrils so that it’s hard or impossible to breathe through your nose, you may want to consider surgery. Other symptoms of a deviated septum may include frequent nosebleeds and facial pain. Surgery is the only way to fix a deviated septum. When planning septoplasty, your surgeon considers your symptoms, and the physical structure and features of your nose. Talk with your surgeon about what septoplasty can achieve for you.

How is it Done?

During septoplasty, your nasal septum is straightened and repositioned in the middle of your nose. This may require your surgeon to cut and remove parts of your nasal septum before reinserting them in the proper position.

A septoplasty takes anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes to complete, depending on the complexity of the condition. You’ll be under either local or general anesthesia, depending on what you and your doctor decide is best for you.

Local anesthesia. This type of anesthesia is limited to your nose. Your doctor injects the pain-numbing medication (anesthetic) into your nasal tissues. If you will also have sedation, this is produced with medication injected through a catheter placed in a vein — an intravenous (IV) line. The medication makes you groggy but not fully unconscious.

General anesthesia. With general anesthesia, you inhale an anesthetic agent or receive an anesthetic through an IV line. This type of anesthesia affects your entire body and induces a temporary state of unconsciousness.

During surgery, the incision is closed with absorbable suture. Soft silicone splints may be inserted inside each nostril to support the septum. To prevent postoperative bleeding, your doctor may place bandage-like material in your nose.

After the surgery, you’re moved to a recovery room, where the staff monitors you and watches for any complications. This procedure is typically performed on an outpatient basis, so you’ll likely be able to go home the same day.

What are the Risks?

Septoplasty shares risks that are common with any major surgery, such as bleeding, infection and an adverse reaction to the anesthetic.

Other possible risks specific to septoplasty include:

  • Persistence in previous symptoms, such as nasal obstruction, despite surgery
  • Excessive bleeding
  • A change in the shape of your nose
  • An opening in the septum (septal perforation)
  • A decrease in the sense of smell
  • A collection of blood in the nasal space that would need to be drained (septal hematoma)
  • A temporary numb sensation by the upper gum or teeth
  • Additional surgery may be required to treat some of these complications or if the outcome of the surgery doesn’t match your expectations. Talk to your doctor about your specific risks before surgery.

Recovery & Results

Septoplasty is usually performed as an outpatient procedure unless major complications arise. This means that you’ll be able to go home on the same day as the procedure, once the anesthesia has worn off. Your nose will be swollen, painful, and packed with cotton to control bleeding. The packing can be removed a day or two after surgery. Your doctor will also prescribe pain medication as needed.

To further decrease the chances of bleeding and swelling, your doctor may ask that you follow these precautions for several weeks after surgery. Depending on the extent of your surgery, you may not be asked to comply with all of them:

  • Avoid strenuous activities, such as aerobics and jogging. This is to decrease the chance of a blood pressure elevation that could cause a nosebleed.
  • Don’t blow your nose.
  • Elevate your head when you’re sleeping.
  • Wear clothes that fasten in the front; don’t pull clothing, such as shirts or sweaters, over your head.

Though results are most often stable, cartilage and tissue may gradually move or reshape over time. The nasal tissues are relatively stable by three to six months after surgery. However, some changes can still occur for up to a year or more after surgery.

Although most people find that septoplasty improves their symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, caused by a deviated septum, the level of improvement you can expect with septoplasty may vary.

Some people find that their symptoms continue even after surgery and opt to undergo a revision septoplasty to further refine the nose and septum.