Septoplasty isn’t a procedure that is as well known as rhinoplasty, also known as a ‘nose job’. While most ‘nose jobs’ are performed for cosmetic reasons, a septoplasty is a medical procedure that is carried out to help correct a deviated septum. The aim is to help patients breathe more easily and reduce pain, swelling, inflammation or recurrent infections in the nasal passages and sinuses.

What is a deviated septum?

Your septum is the piece of cartilage that divides your nose into nostrils. It runs up into your nasal cavity where the nasal bone sits. The septum ensures that your airways in your nose are open and clear to help with breathing, as well as with smell and taste. When a septum has deviated, this means the cartilage is displaced in some way, often restricting the nostril on one side, depending on whether it is displaced to the left or right. The condition can be present from birth or occur as a result of trauma, such as a car accident or sports injury.

A deviated septum can cause breathing troubles, as well as facial pain and discomfort due to blocked sinuses, frequent sinus infections, headaches, nosebleeds, and congestion. In children, you might notice that they have very noisy breathing during sleep. Sometimes one nostril may be completely or partially blocked due to the position of the septum, although this may not be immediately obvious from looking unless observed by a doctor, as the septum runs up high into the nasal cavity. Up to 80% of people have a slightly deviated septum but may only notice symptoms when they have a cold or sinus infection.

What happens during a septoplasty?

Septoplasty procedures are usually carried out by specialist ENT (ear nose and throat) surgeons, and they will be able to guide you through the process to ensure you are fully prepared. At your first appointment, a doctor will examine your nose and airways. This usually involves a light and a nasal speculum to fully open your airways during the examination. This is not normally painful, just a little uncomfortable. Some doctors may also use a fibreoptic scope or camera to view the airways clearly on a screen or use a spray that shrinks the nasal lining tissues temporarily so they can get a clear view of the septum and the degree of deviation.

If you are struggling with repeated and frequent sinus infections, your doctor may ask you to complete a course of antibiotics before any procedure to help clear up any infection and ensure the surgery can be more successful.

Septoplasty is usually carried out under general anaesthetic, although if the septum deviation is not too complex, it may be possible to complete under local anaesthetic. You can speak with your doctor about the options available and decide which you would prefer. The operation is generally done as an outpatient procedure, meaning you can go home after providing you are fit and well.

During the procedure, your surgeon will start by making an incision on the side of your nose to access the septum. The septum is covered by a protective mucus membrane which helps keep it lubricated and assists with functions such as blocking allergens from entering your airways. This membrane will be gently lifted up by the surgeon to expose the septum. With the septum accessible to the surgeon, the septum can be corrected to the right position in the nose. This may involve removing additional cartilage or pieces of bone that have affected the septum or formed as a result of impact or injury. The septum will be straightened and aligned properly within the nose, allowing both nostrils to function effectively. The mucus membrane is then replaced back over the septum and the incisions are stitched and dressed. It’s possible that your surgeon will also pack your nostrils with cotton to help keep the septum in place while it heals, although this is usually only for a day or two.

Recovering from a septoplasty

For the first few days after the procedure, your nose and face will likely feel quite sore and bruised, and your nose especially is likely to be swollen and painful. Your doctor will be able to prescribe medication to help deal with the pain, but you will likely have to avoid any medications that can thin the blood, including ibuprofen.

Some things you can do to help with recovery include not blowing your nose for three days after surgery, sleeping with your head elevated (this will help reduce swelling and ensures your airways aren’t blocked), and wearing clothing that is easy to get on and off over your head (button-up shirts can be a good choice as well). It is recommended that you try and avoid any intense exercise during the early period of recovery, as this can raise your blood pressure and could result in a nose bleed or swelling. If you play contact sports, you should avoid this until your nose is completely healed – this is usually within 2 months, although consult your doctor before restarting to avoid further injury. You should be able to return to your usual routine at work or school within two weeks of surgery.

A septoplasty can be life-changing for people who have struggled with breathing issues and sinus pain throughout their life. Being able to breathe freely and without pain or discomfort is a great feeling, and helping patients to achieve this is what our team of surgeons do best.

At 150 Harley Street, our specialist ENT surgeons and clinical care teams are here to help you no matter what your problem is. We have the latest in diagnostic technology and provide a wide range of treatments on-site, ensuring you get the best care and information during your visit. Our professional and friendly staff are here to reassure you and find the best course of treatment, helping you get back to feeling like yourself and enjoying life to the full.