Septoplasty: Everything You Need to Know About Surgery

Medically Reviewed By Nicole Leigh Aaronson, MD, MBA, CPE, FACS, FAAP
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Septoplasty is surgery to treat a deviated septum. The septum is a wall of bone and cartilage that divides the nose into two nasal passages. A deviated septum occurs when the septum shifts to one side of the nose. Surgery is the only way to correct a deviated septum permanently, with septoplasty being one of the most common procedures of nasal and plastic surgery.

This article will explain what septoplasty is, including its cost, outlook, and effectiveness. It will also explain the procedure and what to expect, before, during, and after surgery.

What is septoplasty?

An extreme close-up of a person's nose, highlighting their nostrils and septum in front of a plain blue background.
Julian Ward/Getty Images

Septoplasty is a surgery that straightens a deviated septum. 

A deviated septum is when the septum leans toward one side of the nose. It can be the result of injury or natural causes, including the nose’s natural structure from birth.

Sometimes, a deviated septum may interrupt airflow through the nostrils. This can make breathing difficult and increase the risk of sinus infection or other health conditions. Surgeons can perform a septoplasty to solve this problem.

Additionally, some people may undergo septoplasty and turbinate reduction together. Turbinates are structures of the nose that sometimes become inflamed, impeding breathing. A surgeon can perform a turbinate reduction to partially remove or resection the turbinates.

Septoplasty vs. rhinoplasty 

Septoplasty and rhinoplasty are both nose-related surgeries, but they are not the same.

Surgeons conduct rhinoplasty to change other aspects of the structure, shape, or proportions of the nose. Surgeons perform septoplasty specifically to correct a deviated septum.

Some people undergo both septoplasty and rhinoplasty at the same time to further improve their breathing or change their appearance.

Reasons for septoplasty

A deviated septum can make one nasal passage smaller than the other. This can stifle airflow and cause difficulty breathing. 

Additional problems that can arise from a deviated septum include:

  • headaches 
  • recurrent facial pain
  • frequent nosebleeds 
  • nasal congestion
  • noisy breathing
  • sinus infection
  • enlargement of the turbinates, which are structures in the nose that regulate airflow warmth and humidity
  • sleep apnea or snoring

Septoplasty that effectively treats a deviated septum can help avoid these additional symptoms. 

Sometimes doctors also perform this procedure as part of other medical procedures, such as sinus surgery and nasal tumor surgery.

What happens during the procedure?

Septoplasty surgery can use one of two principal approaches: traditional and endoscopic septoplasty. An endoscopic septoplasty allows the surgeon to see inside the nose using a camera. Both approaches can be very effective.

Before the procedure, your doctor may give you an anesthetic to ease the pain. The anesthetic may be local, numbing only the nose, or general, which puts you to sleep. 

A surgeon will perform the following steps for a septoplasty:

  1. A doctor will administer an anesthetic to you to ensure your comfort during the procedure.
  2. A surgeon will then make incisions on one side of your nose to reach your septum.
  3. They will then dissect the mucosa, a membrane that covers the septum, to put it back in place later.
  4. Next, they will remove some of the cartilage from the septum. They may replace some cartilage if necessary to improve the structure.
  5. Finally, they will place the mucosa back over the septum and put in dissolvable stitches or splints to hold it in place. Splints can also help prevent nosebleeds and the formation of scar tissue.

The procedure usually takes between 30–60 minutes, although this time may vary depending on the severity of the deviation.

If you undergo a turbinate reduction in addition to septoplasty, surgeons will perform this during the same procedure by partially reducing or breaking the turbinates to move them out of the way.

Since the surgery is an outpatient procedure, you may be able to go home as soon as the anesthetic wears off. Although, at-home care will be necessary.

Preparing for septoplasty

Proper preparation for surgery can improve the probability of success and reduce the risk of complications.

Preparation can include:

  • undergoing general health checks to assess whether surgery is appropriate for you
  • informing your doctor about any allergies, bleeding conditions, or other health conditions you may have before surgery
  • abstaining from taking certain medications, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, as they can make it hard for blood to clot 
  • avoiding smoking

It is important to continue taking any prescription medication unless your surgeon advises you otherwise. For more individual advice about preparing for your surgery, ask your surgeon while letting them know about all the medications and supplements you take.

Your doctor may also request that you bring someone to the clinic who can help you get home after the procedure. This is because the anesthetic may cause drowsiness after the surgery and can make it unsafe for you to drive.

Septoplasty recovery

Your doctor may recommend the following advice to reduce the risk of complications and unnecessary bleeding during recovery. As you recover, try to avoid:

  • aspirin, ibuprofen, and other drugs that thin the blood
  • nose blowing for at least 3 days after the surgery
  • sports or other exercises for around 1 month, and bending or lifting
  • smoky or congested areas, and being around people with colds, flu, and cough
  • plane flying for 2 weeks after surgery

Other recovery tips include:

  • Sneeze with your mouth open to prevent putting additional pressure on the nose.
  • Rest at home for around 1 week.
  • Limit exercise to gentle workouts in the first couple of weeks.
  • Use nasal saline, as your doctor advises, to flush old mucus or blood, especially while using splints.

If you have a very physical job, for example, one that involves heavy lifting, taking 2 weeks off work may be desireable, if you are able. A doctor may be able to provide a note for your employer.

You can expect many of the aftereffects of septoplasty to resolve within a few weeks of the procedure.

What to expect during recovery

It is common to have some mild side effects, especially in the first few days after septoplasty surgery.

These effects can include:

  • swollen areas
  • sore throat
  • bloody discharge from the nose for around 2 weeks
  • crustiness from the nose, that may look bloody
  • face aches or headaches
  • discomfort or congestion in the nose
  • nausea or drowsiness from the anesthetic

Since septoplasty surgery occurs internally, you usually will not have any visible scarring.

Your doctor will give you instructions on how to care for your nose postsurgery. They may also give you medications to ease the pain.

Sometimes, they may pack the nostrils with cotton to manage bleeding. If your doctor uses cotton or splints in the nose, you may have to breathe through the mouth. This can cause discomfort due to dry mouth. However, using nasal saline can help to clear the nose from congestion that splints cause.

Overall, it may take up to 6 months to heal as the cartilage, and other nose tissues, settle completely. Although, you may recover much sooner. However, it is possible for nasal tissue changes to occur for a year or more after surgery.

Follow your doctor’s recovery plan and attend all follow-up appointments to ensure optimal recovery and monitor the success of the surgery.

Get advice from your doctor for more serious side effects

Sometimes more severe side effects can occur during healing.

Contact your doctor if you experience worsening or severe pain or skin discoloration.

Call an ambulance or get emergency treatment if you have heavy bleeding that does not stop after 20 minutes.

Septoplasty before and after 

As septoplasty is a procedure that makes changes internally in the nose, you typically will not see a visible difference in your nose after you recover from surgery.

After recovery from a successful septoplasty, you will usually experience improvements in breathing difficulty and any other previous symptoms. You may notice improvements shortly after surgery or during healing.

Risks and complications

Septoplasty is generally safe and effective. However, as will all surgical procedures, it can present some risks.

Risks include:

  • excessive bleeding
  • infection 
  • nose and nostril scarring
  • temporary numbness of the teeth or gums
  • perforation of the septum
  • hematoma
  • altered shape and color of the nose
  • change in your sense of smell and taste 
  • risks from the anesthetic
  • unimproved symptoms or unsuccessful surgery

Observing proper hygiene and following your doctor’s recommendations for care can help to ensure safe healing.

Cost 

There is a wide variation in cost for septoplasty. The total procedure cost for septoplasty and turbinate reduction ranges between $852–$10,559 in the United States. However, since not everyone will require turbinate reduction, this figure may be different for certain individuals.

Medicaid may cover the procedure if they deem it medically necessary, for example, if septum deviation causes continuous obstruction of breathing.

Factors such as your insurance coverage, location, and complexity of the procedure will influence your personal cost.

Outlook

In many cases, septoplasty corrects a deviated septum effectively and permanently. 

In a few isolated cases, however, the septum may shift again after a while. In such cases, a surgeon will perform a second surgery. They will work to reshape and reposition the septum again.

If your symptoms do not improve after surgery, or you experience symptoms of complications or slow healing, contact your doctor for further advice.

Alternative options

Before performing a septoplasty, your doctor will consider if other treatments will be safer and more efficient.

If additional conditions compromise your breathing, doctors may first aim to treat these conditions. For example, if allergy-related nasal congestion worsens your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe decongestant sprays. For a bacterial infection, they may recommend antibiotics.

If these treatments do not bring improvement, your doctor may recommend septoplasty.

Frequently asked questions

Below are some additional questions people ask about septoplasty.

Is septoplasty a major or minor surgery?

Septoplasty is a minor surgery and requires few incisions.

Moreover, the aftereffects of the procedure typically heal within a few weeks.

Do they break your nose during a septoplasty?

Surgeons do not break the nose during a septoplasty. They reshape and reposition the septum carefully using surgical tools, and provide splints to hold it in place.

How painful is septoplasty?

Mild to moderate pain or aching is a typical effect of septoplasty. Your doctor will administer an anesthetic before the procedure and may prescribe pain relief medication after the procedure.

Get medical advice for pain that worsens during recovery.

Is septoplasty a cosmetic surgery? 

Doctors typically perform septoplasties for functional reasons, such as improving airflow through the nostrils.

If a person wants cosmetic nose surgery, they can talk with their doctor about rhinoplasty.

Summary

Septoplasty is a surgical operation to correct a deviated septum. A deviated septum refers to when the thin wall of bone and cartilage that divides the nose in half moves to one side of the nose.

In severe cases, a deviated septum may interrupt breathing and increase a person’s risk of sinus infection.

Septoplasty surgery is a minor outpatient procedure that can help resolve this problem. During surgery, doctors will reshape, reposition, or remove nasal tissue to clear the airways. Recovery can take up to a few weeks, with permanent nose healing sometimes taking longer.

Contact your doctor promptly for any persistent symptoms of breathing congestion or increasing pain after surgery.

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Medical Reviewer: Nicole Leigh Aaronson, MD, MBA, CPE, FACS, FAAP
Last Review Date: 2022 Jul 8
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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