Considering Surgery When Snoring Is Caused By a Deviated Septum

A Common Condition May Lead to a Blocked Airway

A deviated septum may obstruct the nose and lead to snoring and sleep apnea and can be treated with surgery called septoplasty
A deviated septum may obstruct the nose and lead to snoring and sleep apnea and can be treated with surgery called septoplasty. ADAM

Occasionally snoring isn’t so innocent and leads to obstructive sleep apnea, and nasal surgery may be sought to correct the condition, especially when it is caused by a deviated septum. What is a deviated septum? When might surgery help to improve nasal breathing at night? Discover the role of surgery and whether it is the right choice for you.

The Anatomy Contributing to Snoring

Snoring is a vibratory noise created by the partial obstruction of the upper airway, typically either the nasal passage or the throat.

If the airway becomes totally obstructed, it may lead to the disorder called sleep apnea. Snoring is very common, and there are many potential causes. This obstruction may be worsened by weight gain, alcohol consumption, and sleeping on your back. One potential cause is something called a deviated septum.

What Is a Deviated Septum?

Ideally, the airway would be completely clear and air would move in and out without disruption. Unfortunately, sometimes this clear passage becomes partially blocked. This may be due to enlargement of the tonsils or adenoids, congestion in the nose, turbinate hypertrophy, excessive weight leading to a narrowed passage, or even a shift in the position of something called the nasal septum.

The nose has tissue made of cartilage that separates the left and right nasal passageways. If you stick a finger in your nostril, you can feel this tissue called the nasal septum in the middle of the nose.

Unfortunately, sometimes this tissue can be shifted to one side or the other. This blockage may be partial or complete.

It is estimated that approximately 80 percent of people have a deviated septum. Many times this is simply present from birth due to a genetic, or congenital, influence. This may also occur as a result of trauma, such as a broken nose.

This shift can cause partial obstruction of one of the nasal passages, leading to difficulty breathing on that side and snoring.

The nose goes through something called a nasal cycle, meaning that airflow predominates on one side and then gradually shifts to the other over several hours. When it shifts to the side that is obstructed, nasal airflow becomes compromised and mouth breathing may be more likely to occur.

What Are the Symptoms of a Deviated Septum?

Some of the common symptoms associated with a deviated septum include:

  • Obstruction of one or both nostrils
  • Nasal congestion
  • Nosebleeds
  • Frequent sinus infections
  • Snoring
  • Sleep apnea

Small deviations in the nasal septum may lead to no symptoms and may not require treatment. However, significant problems with breathing may result and treatment may be pursued.

Septoplasty: Nasal Surgery to Fix a Deviated Septum

If breathing problems like snoring or sleep apnea occur, it may be necessary to have surgery called septoplasty. This involves moving the nasal septum back to the midline to open up the airways on each side. This is often curative of the difficulties breathing, including any snoring that may have been present.

Alternatives to surgery to treat snoring might include the use of external nasal strips, like Breathe Right strips, or the use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP).

If the nasal obstruction interferes with CPAP use, a full-face mask may be necessary.

If you are concerned that you may have a deviated septum, it is important to visit your healthcare provider. After a careful examination of your nasal passageways with a device called a nasal speculum, you may be referred to an otorhinolaryngologist (or ENT doctor) who specializes in disorders of the ear, nose, and throat. This problem can often be treated successfully.


Deviated septum. American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery.

Snoring. National Institutes of Health.

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