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Navigating a Nasal Nexus: Sleep Apnea and the Deviated Septum

Being deviant isn’t always as much fun as it sounds, especially if a deviated septum is causing the chaos. If you are experiencing interrupted sleep, it would be natural to wonder if sleep apnea and nasal septum issues are related, or even causal. Most importantly, how might you get a good night’s sleep again? We’re here to help you navigate your nasal passageways - but not in a gross way!

What is a Deviated Septum?

If you think about your nose and how it works, you’ll recognize that your nostrils can function independently. What separates them into two airways is the septum - the cartilage and bone between the nostrils.

Misalignment of the septum is called “deviated septum” (DS) and can cause breathing problems that may lead to a sleep disorder. This uneven construction of the nasal passages can be genetic in nature or caused by damage to the nose, such as facial trauma from a car accident or a rowdy barfight (not that we’re judging).

Have you ever noticed that when one side of your nose is plugged up, the other side is somehow clear? And that the same situation will randomly switch sides? This is called the nasal cycle and it happens all the time! Every 4-6 hours, in fact, but we nearly never perceive it. We only tend to notice it when we are sick and congested. Having a deviated septum can also bring this cycle to your awareness, or it may be an indicator of some other nasal obstruction.

Can a Deviated Septum Cause Sleep Apnea?

Deviated septum cannot cause obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), but can worsen it. Since the deviation reduces airflow through the nose, it can lead to increased airway pressure during nasal cycles, as well as mouth breathing, which can worsen sleep apnea. Because the two conditions have similar symptoms, investigating septum deviation can often lead to discovering previously undiagnosed sleep apnea.

Having a deviated septum can also make you more vulnerable to other schnoz problems such as nasal congestion or sinus infections. In turn, these can also worsen the symptoms of sleep apnea. Treatment options for symptoms include nasal steroids, decongestants, and/or antihistamines. However, these are only to help improve quality of life until the patient is ready for surgery on the septum, called septoplasty.

How Can I Tell if I Have a Deviated Septum?

Even though a broken nose seems like a sure-fire bet, you’re actually unlikely to be able to tell visually. Here are some signs of deviated septum that may be worth discussing with your doctor.

  • Difficulty breathing through one or both nostrils can be a sign that the nasal passageways are damaged.Noisy breathing through the nose could be a result of inflamed tissues restricting airflow.
  • Snoring is common with both deviated septum and obstructive sleep apnea - it is possible to have both as they are different conditions.
  • Difficulty breathing when sleeping on a particular side due to one side of the nasal cavity being more restrictive than the other.
  • Nosebleeds may occur when the surface of the septum dries out, particularly on the side that gets the best airflow.

Please remember that a medical assessment is necessary because these symptoms may be caused by other ailments as well, such as nasal polyps or swollen turbinates (bony structures wrapped with tissue that warm and moisten the air in your nose via blood flow). These signs are worth talking to your doctor about so you can get the deep sleep you need.

Can Fixing a Deviated Septum Cure Sleep Apnea?

The only way to fix deviated septum is through surgery. The most common surgical procedure is called septoplasty, which physically repositions the septum. In some cases, balloon sinuplasty is a more appropriate option. It is minimally invasive, and uses an inflatable device to realign the septum.

Fixing deviated septum won’t cure OSA, but may significantly reduce the severity of it by freeing blockages and calming inflamed tissues. While treating the side effects of or correcting deviated septum sounds fairly straightforward, it's important to also treat OSA, if present, to protect your health.

If you and your doctor discover that OSA is the prime culprit of your breathing issues and not deviated septum, nasal surgery may still prove a helpful option. However, CPAP is by far the most common sleep apnea treatment. It is also the most effective and non-invasive treatment available.

If you come to this turning point in your medical journey, we hope you’ll turn to us. is here to help you treat OSA affordably and as comfortably as possible!