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The Deviated Septum Experience: Diagnosis, Surgery, Recovery, and FAQ

Deviated Septum Surgery

At the end of February, I noticed I couldn’t breathe properly through my left nostril. I went to an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist and learned that, growing up, I’d broken my nose, resulting in a deviated septum. This is when the bone between your nostrils becomes crooked, restricting airflow. Many people have deviated septums but aren’t noticeably affected by them. I was one of the exceptions, with two doctors referring to the damage as severe.

To fix a deviated septum, surgery is required. I had this surgery in early April and, prior to that, had been searching for people’s experiences to get an idea of what to expect. I found some blog posts and YouTube videos, but nothing comprehensive, and that’s why I’m writing this post — to help people with deviated septums get an idea of what to expect from the process.

The post itself should answer most people’s questions but, if you have anything to ask, feel free to leave comments below.

Symptoms

There’s a lot of problems that can come from having a deviated septum but these are the most notable ones:

  • You become tired easily. It’s a source of that constant, sluggish feeling, and it’s especially noticeable when you’re doing anything physical. (My deviated septum now explains why I could sprint quickly but could never even begin to run a long distance.)
  • Your sense of taste and smell are diminished. I haven’t noticed big improvements in taste but smells are more intense than they’ve ever been. This is great for smelling the salty air by the beach. It’s not quite as great when a garbage truck drives by.
  • Your sleep suffers a lot. Without proper airflow, you’ll snore and suffer from sleep apnea, and you’ll wake up feeling groggy all of the time. You spend one third of your life sleeping and, if you don’t wake up refreshed, it’s going to wear you down.

(I’d argue that sleep is only one step down from water in things we need to survive so, if you’re sleeping poorly, that alone is worth the time and effort required of the surgery.)

The blocked nose that results from a deviated septum can also cause mouth breathing, which in itself comes with a range of nasty symptoms, from gingivitis to physically changing the shape of your face, as shown here:

Mouth Breathing The Deviated Septum Experience: Diagnosis, Surgery, Recovery, and FAQ

These girls are twins. The right is a mouth breather.

Diagnosis

Like I said before, deviated septums are common. Half-decent specialists will find them completely unremarkable and easy to diagnose. I saw two specialists and they both identified the problem in the same way:

  1. Seated me in a reclining chair.
  2. Sprayed a local anaesthetic into my nostrils. It ran down the back of my throat and tasted terrible.
  3. Shoved a camera into my nostrils to take a look around.

It’s a mildly uncomfortable process but nothing to be hesitant about. My eyes watered a little and the taste of the spray hung around for a while but there was no outright pain.

5 Things To Know About Pre-Surgery

Compared to most surgeries, there shouldn’t be much stress involved in this one. My friends and family were more worried than I was. There are a few things to keep in mind before heading into surgery though (most of which will be repeated by your doctor anyway):

  1. For two weeks prior, avoid anything that can thin the blood. This includes a range of medication, some non-prescription pain-killers, and garlic. (You’ll also have to avoid these things after surgery.)
  2. You’ll need to take 1–3 weeks off work to recover. You’ll probably feel fine after one week but, if you’re employed, try to get as much time off as possible. The extra rest will help.
  3. Buy a Neti Pot. These are useful for anyone’s health but you’ll be needing it to clear out mucus and dried blood from your nose. They’re gross to use but wondefully satisfying.
  4. Stock up your fridge with stuff to eat. I found softer foods like yoghurt easier to handle. Moving my mouth too much hurt my nose so solid foods were more difficult to manage.
  5. Prepare for boredom. You can’t do a whole lot after surgery so podcasts, movies, and any other passive entertainment will make the time pass a little faster.

Your nose will also feel extremely blocked for the first week after surgery, resulting in some hardcore mouth breathing while you sleep. This will cause a painful sore throat, so any sore throat remedies will be a worthwhile addition to your arsenal. Personally, I’ve found Olive Leaf Oral Spray to be very effective.

10 Things To Know About Post-Surgery

There’s not much to say about the surgery itself. I went to the hospital, put on a gown, lay in a bed, was wheeled into the surgery room, and the anaesthetist put me to sleep in a second. I woke up cold and with foggy thoughts but the nurses put extra blankets on me and I soon came back to my senses.

The interesting thing happen once the surgery’s over, so keep in mind that:

  1. Your throat will be sore. Immediately after the surgery, this is because of the anaesthetic. You will, however, be allowed to take mild pain killers.
  2. You can stay overnight at the hospital. This costs more but I found it comforting to know that nurses were nearby. I didn’t need any of their help in the end though.
  3. Your nose will bleed. Don’t be alarmed. It’s normal. Have an ice pack handy and place it below your nose to stop the blood from flowing. If it keeps bleeding for minutes at a time, call your doctor.
  4. You’ll have foam packing in your nostrils. This will help absorb some blood immediately after the surgery and is usually removed within 12–48 hours. You’ll feel some relief once the packing is out.
  5. You might have plastic splints in your nostrils. These help the septum heal properly. If present, they’ll be removed after one week and, once they’re removed, your breathing will feel incredible straight away.
  6. Your sleep will suck. To solve this, I forced myself to remain awake for as long as possible so I was simply exhausted when it came time to sleep. Keep your head elevated with a couple of pillows while sleeping.
  7. Showering is tricky. You shouldn’t get warm water on your head since that’ll stimulate blood flow (and we don’t want more blood out of our nose). Either have cold showers or just wash your body.
  8. Nasal sprays will provide mild relief. The doctor may provide one of these. It’s not much but a saline, non-medicated spray can make breathing a little easier during the first week.
  9. Neti Pots will provide the most relief. I didn’t feel comfortable using one for the first week but, once my splints were out, using the Neti Pot cleared out a ton of gunk and never fails to improve my breathing.
  10. Headaches are inevitable. I had a few myself and they were terrible. I wish I had comforting words to offer but, for as long as I felt the pain, all I did was fantasise about being fully recovered.
  11. Painkillers are your friend. I was taking the maximum dosage allowed — eight per day — and, while they didn’t clear up all of the pain, they helped keep me sane. Just don’t take ones that thin the blood.

But if all of this sounds scary, fear not. Everyone recovers differently and, based on what I’ve read, plenty of people have had easier recoveries than I did. And, either way, the struggles were well worth it.

Tracking My Sleep Quality with SleepCycle

In the weeks leading up to surgery, I downloaded SleepCycle on my iPhone to track the quality of my sleep. After a week’s worth of tracking, my sleep quality bounced between 50–70% on average (with a peak of just under 80%). Is this data incredibly accurate? I’m not sure but it doesn’t matter because I wasn’t worried about absolute data. I only cared about whether or not the numbers were higher after the surgery.

Here’s the chart for the days I tracked:

SleepCycle Results 500x282 The Deviated Septum Experience: Diagnosis, Surgery, Recovery, and FAQ

So you can see there was a big difference after surgery (and specifically, after getting the splints out). I went from not scoring above 80% to scoring 90% on my first night of post-surgery tracking, then 94% the night after. This meant:

  • I was falling to sleep quicker.
  • I was waking up less frequently.
  • I slept for longer overall.

Also, for the first time in my life, I was able to sleep on my back in perfect comfort. Previously, I could only sleep in very precise positions. I didn’t even “get” how people slept in other ways. (Now I just need to do some research in what’s actually the best way to sleep.)

Conclusion

It’s been a month since surgery and, although it can take months to feel the full effects, I feel capable of answering the most important question:

“Was the surgery worth it?”

And my answer is simply, “Yes.” Absolutely, positively, yes. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve made in recent memory and, if your breathing is affected by a deviated septum, I can easily recommend the surgery.

The first week of recovery had a few low-points but, since then, I’m breathing better, sleeping better, and smelling better, and the differences are dramatic. This wasn’t an incremental improvement. This was a big change in a short period of time that will surely have long-lasting effects. I have no regrets.

33 comments… add one

  • Atisha Ribeiro May 2, 2014, 8:48 am

    Although I don’t think I have a deviated-septum still interesting to read :)
    Glad that it helped you

  • Al May 3, 2014, 4:00 am

    I have a sigmoid shaped deviated septum, snore, etc. and turbinates in my right nostril, so one side of my nose is often congested. I’ve been told that I should have the same surgery that you had.

    I was basically warned that it was very painful, especially during recovery, and, as an “optional” surgery, that pretty much put me off doing it was a 42 year old guy. How bad did you really find the recovery to be? How painful was the procedure day of, etc? Was it done under a local or a general? (The former can make it a bit psychologically distressing as you’re awake and listening to them working away!)

    • David Turnbull May 3, 2014, 12:02 pm

      Honestly, the pain was never more than uncomfortable for me. I was under a general anaesthetic during surgery itself and, during recovery, the pain killers I was taking meant I just felt like I had a bad flu — blocked nose, headache, etc. Maybe go into the surgery expecting it to be rough but I’m extremely glad I got the surgery and it’s only a week after surgery that’s particularly rough. Once I had the splints removed from my nose, it was just a matter of getting plenty of rest and cleaning out my nose regularly.

      • Al May 4, 2014, 4:08 am

        Thanks. Something to consider then.

  • Jeremy May 6, 2014, 10:36 am

    I sure i might have a deviated septum. In my right nostril i have perfect airflow, then on my left barely any at all. My sleep has been pretty horrible in the last 5 years or so. I’ll try to see my doctor soon so i can discuss this with him and she what he thinks.

  • Sanji May 13, 2014, 1:22 pm

    Wow my Mom just had surgery for her deviated septum back in March due to constant headaches and migraines. She seems to be doing much better now-glad you’re feeling better too. ^_^

  • Leon Fletcher May 16, 2014, 9:52 am

    I wonder if I have this, I remember when I was really young, about three or four, one of our family friend’s son head butted me right on the top of the bridge of my nose, and I’ve also received many balls from different sports hit the exact place (must be a magnet for impact or something haha) which has made my nose sort of crooked, kinda like a Roman nose. My sense of smell has never been great though every once in a while it does temporarily strengthen.

    What I do have though, is a crossbite and my top jaw being smaller than it should, which means I am going through surgery next year or the year after which will break down my entire jaw and reconstruct it… YAY… though if I have to be honest… kinda excited for the surgery hehe

  • Ben June 12, 2014, 11:09 pm

    Yeahp I had the same kind of op in 2010. Adenoids taken out too, as well as my turbinates shaved. I remember the bandage started smelling like bacon after they took the gauze out.

  • Molly August 22, 2014, 9:53 am

    Hi! I am having my septum straightened in the next few months and I am freaking out after watching some YouTube videos. I am not having anything with my sinuses or turbinates touched (not sure if you did OR the people on YouTube) but seeing the clogging and getting that out seems painful and terrifying! Basically she is just straightening my septum… I do not have any issues breathing.

    My DOC said I would have splints in after surgery for a week the she was remove them. Shee said I would feel a bit stuffy from those. She did not mention HUGE piles of blood and mucous coming out OR having to clean those afterwards.

    Any thoughts?

  • Eve September 4, 2014, 7:31 am

    THANKS for the info! You are right in that it is hard to find factual experienced REAL info. I’ve suffered from sleep apnea for years…always tired, can’t use a bipap or a cpap. I know the ENT will tell me I need the surgery. If I can get him to agree to keep me overnight and let me leave with pain meds…. I might consider it. (I’m a wus). Thank you so much!

    • David Turnbull September 4, 2014, 8:18 pm

      Glad this info was useful, Eve. At the very least, you shouldn’t have trouble with getting enough pain meds. They gave me mild stuff but I was allowed to take eight tablets a day, and that was enough to keep me feeling decent. :)

  • Julie wilkinson September 16, 2014, 8:04 pm

    Feel much better from reading your story I have my op in 2 weeks and struggling to breathe or swallow I loo forward to a normal life!!

  • marcia becks September 18, 2014, 1:35 pm

    I was told today that I will need the surgery to straighten out my deviated septum. Sleep apnea and snore very loudly. I’m so scared and reading some of what you say has, calm me somewhat. But I don’t like pain. I am definitely chicken. Thanks again for the breakdown of the EVENT… lol.

  • Dafni September 20, 2014, 6:54 pm

    Hi what kind of operation was? Broke ur nose or just cut a some part inside? Im mouth breathing since 8-9 years, i noticed some changes in my face shape, like droopy and i thought of some diseases. But also i thought could ne the not enough oxygen supply in brain due to mouthbr. My nose is not straight and the doc said i need operation.

  • Becky October 9, 2014, 5:20 am

    Extremely helpful as my daughter just went through this! Nice to know what to expect in recovery.

  • Jacqueline October 18, 2014, 4:25 pm

    Thanks for this article I am having this procedure in a few weeks time and now know what to expect.

  • Lisa October 23, 2014, 10:18 am

    Reading your comments are both very interesting and Similar. I am 3 weeks post septorhinoplasty and for me it’s been awful. I have probably had the worst time of things. To me my septum still looks deviated. My GP also agreed slightly but have to wait 3
    Months for the swelling to reduce. I still have bruising, numb front teeth. Painfull jaws, painful nose, pins and needles in face, no sense of taste or smell and I still can’t breathe from my
    Right nostril which is the side im sure
    Is still deviated. At thr moment I’m feeling very low, and can’t see the positive side of my surgery as yet.

  • Chris October 27, 2014, 10:25 am

    Did you have any other symptoms besides difficulties breathing?

    I have constant nasal congestion which is apparently caused by severly deviated septum according to an ENT doctor I visited recently. My nose gets full very quickly (especially left nostril), it’s difficult to blow my nose, and even if I manage to clear it out, it gets blocked again after a couple of minutes. It doesn’t help that I’m allergic but I take meds for that so it shouldn’t affect me this much.

    I also need to clear my throat and cough often because nasty stuff runs from my nose to the back of my throat. I really need this procedure done.

  • Bryan LeBlanc November 5, 2014, 2:31 pm

    IM 15 years old and I have a deviated septum. I just went to the doctor and I have a surgery in the next two weeks. I am so scared I didn’t relies what happens during the surgery, until I saw YouTube videos. (a nose had a incision on the side and then a plier type tool twisted and broke pieces of the cartilage. what wasn’t told to me was a chisel and mallet being also used to break away bone) :( :( :;(
    what am I to aspect don’t sugar coat it plz….

    • David Turnbull November 7, 2014, 5:52 pm

      During the surgery itself, expect nothing. You’ll be completely asleep. Recovery can be uncomfortable but there’s no need to fear. Just prepare to need a lot of rest afterward. :)

  • abraham November 7, 2014, 9:02 am

    Thanks for the article. I have just did mine (yesterday), and your article comforts me as far the pain and others. I breath with my mouth and i cannot wait to breath normally and feel like everybody.
    Thanks again!!!

  • Celena November 8, 2014, 3:18 pm

    I just had my surgery yesterday. I can’t taste or smell. Which I’m concerned about….it’s very uncomfortable but I’m hoping the pain gets better. Sleeping Upright is not comfortable at all. Also being severely congested is not fun either.

  • Chris Gabaldon November 14, 2014, 4:17 pm

    I had the operation for my deviated septum a year ago. Just saw my Doctor who performed the procedure because I’ve been having the same problems sleeping that had before the surgery. The problem of having one side of my nostril close off as I lay on side of my face and vice-versa. He looks up my nostrils and tells me that my septum looks great and what I’m experiencing is a blood flow issue and there is nothing he can do about it. I just have to live with it. Are you kidding me!? I’m almost back to where I started! What I’m I supposed to do now!?

  • Ebery November 21, 2014, 5:31 am

    Thanks for your article. I am having surgery on 11/24 and a little scared but, hoping it will be worth it. My blockage is almost 100%. Tired of sinus infections all the time.

  • Deanne November 24, 2014, 1:43 am

    Extremely helpful. I had severely deviated septum. Stayed overnight in hospital. And was good to go the next day. But Surgeon should have prepared me better as to post op situation. It’s day 6 now. All went well with op but I’m not going to be up and running for at least another week or so. I thought after 2 days it would be work as usual.

  • Faith November 24, 2014, 8:05 am

    Had septoplasty done 5 days ago. The worst part was the jaw & neck pain & headache from the anesthesia during surgery. The nose area hasn’t been painful – just a LOT of pressure which was mostly relieved when they removed the splints 3 days after surgery. The major deviation was left side – that is wonderful at this point. Also corrected a problem near the tip of my nose with bent cartilage on the right side – that still has a few stitches that will dissolve in time. Pain meds for first 3 days really helped. Sense of smell & taste are starting to return. Assistant said that inflammation is affecting that. Taking anti-inflammatories & trying to keep nose cavities clean. Tissues hurt – using gauze instead – followed by bacitracin (not neosporin, as some are allergic). Will be getting a Netti Pot as David suggests – want to be as gentle as possible with those stitches. There have been a few moments of absolute heaven – I didn’t know breathing was supposed to be this easy. I have a feeling this is going to be wonderful very soon. Faith.

  • Tracy December 1, 2014, 3:11 am

    I had this surgery about 3 1/2 years ago as I had been suffering sinus infections for years, causing me to be on antibiotics often. I was scared of the surgery and put it off. Then once I finally scheduled it I read some posts that scared me so much I almost jumped off the operating room table when they were getting to put me out as I changed my mind. Luckily, a very nice nurse calmed me and I had the surgery. It was a little more painful than I thought but the pain meds helped. I was worried about not being able to breathe but not as bad as I thought. I am SO happy I had this surgery. I did not realize how bad I felt all the time and how it not only affected my quality of life but my family as well as the kids were used to me feeling crappy and not available for things. I have not had a sinus infection since the surgery and have such a better life now. I highly recommend this surgery!!

  • James December 9, 2014, 8:02 am

    2 weeks since my surgery (deviated septum, sinus scar tissue, polyps). Recovery was painless, used a netti pot and the right side unloaded tons of gunk. The left side still seems to be holding onto some stuff so waiting for that to drop. Still find myself getting tired easily but nothing like the first 5 days. My only problem is at night when I go to bed, if I lay on my side at all, I experience congestion and almost an allergic reaction (itchy throat and runny nose). Swapped out pillow and changed sheets several times over the 2 weeks but it still bothers me. anyone else have issues with sleeping on their side or something similar?

  • hadiya December 14, 2014, 2:11 am

    I have a deviated septum and it really affects my confidence when it comes to people looking at my side because it has created a bump at my bridge area. However, as someone who cares a lot about how I look, I wanted to know if the surgery drastically changes the look of your nose?

    • David Turnbull December 15, 2014, 12:43 pm

      No. Deviated septum surgery (a “septoplasty”) is not a cosmetic surgery. To change the look of you nose, look into getting a “rhinoplasty”. (You can get both surgeries at once if you have breathing trouble though.)

  • Annie Dahlin December 14, 2014, 1:44 pm

    Hey,

    Thanks for the article. I just had the same surgery, as well as the sinus one, done yesterday. Your notes are very spot on. I’m nervous though about a couple things. I didn’t realize that the recovery would take so long and would be as painful as it is (definitely very similar to Flu-like symptoms). I have finals this week and I’m very nervous. What do you think I should do? Should I try contacting my teachers and see if I can change anything? I’m just not sure at this point and I’m getting more and more worried. I thought that since it was just my nose that it wouldn’t be so bad and that I would feel back to normal pretty quickly, though I know now that’s wrong.

    Also, what are the chances of the splints in your nose to accidentally move? My left one feels weird and I’m nervous something may have happened while I was resting. Yet, it could also just be normal pain. This is my first surgery so everything is very new to me. How can you tell if something is wrong with the splints? Are they easy to mess up? Should I call my doctor?

    Thanks!
    You have no idea how much this has helped me!
    -Annie Dahlin

  • Leon Cana December 17, 2014, 9:08 am

    Im 13 and I have a big deviation like ) and I want to have a nose job, am I too young ?

    • David Turnbull December 17, 2014, 4:18 pm

      Probably. Best to wait until your late teens at least.

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