Can a Deviated Septum Cause Sleep Apnea? What is the Best Solution?

There are many issues which can increase the chances of developing obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Some common examples include obesity, diabetes and the regular use of sedatives or alcohol. 

Also, physical problems like a deviated septum can also cause OSA.

Why might a deviated septum increase your chances of developing sleep apnea? What viable solutions can alleviate the symptoms? Before addressing these two questions, let’s discuss what a deviated septum actually entails.

What is a Deviated Septum?

A deviated septum occurs when a thin wall that separates the two nostrils (known as the nasal septum) becomes displaced to one side of the nose. 

As a result, one of the nasal passages can become smaller than the other. This may lead to breathing problems due to uneven amounts of air being inhaled through either side. 

Some symptoms associated with a deviated septum include:

  • Difficulty breathing through the nose
  • Snoring
  • Nose bleeds for no apparent reason
  • Possible facial pain around the nasal cavity

There are generally two main causes of a deviated septum. This condition could be present at birth or it may also result from sudden trauma (such as a broken nose that has not been set properly). 

The Link Between a Deviated Septum and Sleep Apnea:

You’re likely aware that sleep apnea is primarily defined as difficulty breathing during sleep. OSA is often the result of narrowed respiratory passages, including the throat and the trachea. 

When the muscles around the mouth and neck relax while asleep, the air passages can narrow to the point of temporary collapse. This is why symptoms such as snoring and waking up gasping are often consistent with sleep apnea. 

So, why might a deviated septum contribute to this condition?

We have already seen that narrowed airways are one of the most common causes of OSA. Of course, the nose also plays an important role when breathing. 

A septum that has become deviated can impede the oxygen inhaled during sleep. Furthermore, many people unconsciously breathe with their mouths open if they experience difficulty breathing with their nose. 

Mouth breathing can contribute to the development of obstructive sleep apnea. 

What Solutions are Available?

This shows a very definite relationship between a deviated septum and obstructive sleep apnea. Let's take a look at surgical options for deviated septum, then discuss sleep apnea treatments.

Surgery for a Deviated Septum

This solution is generally preferred by those who have already been diagnosed with a severely deviated septum. There are four types of surgical procedures which can be performed:

  • Endoscopic sinus surgery
  • Septoplasty
  • Nasal valve surgery
  • Turbinate reduction

Of course, each of these will be chosen based on the patient in question as well as the type of deviated septum that needs to be corrected. The good news is that these procedures have become commonplace and often, they can be completed on an outpatient basis. 

For the sake of brevity, we will not examine the technical aspects of these solutions. Your doctor can explain them in greater detail. 

Sleep Apnea Treatment

The Use of a CPAP Machine

While surgery may represent a viable option, some studies have suggested that these procedures may still not resolve the symptoms of sleep apnea. 

Some people might simply be wary of any type of surgery. This is why a growing number of individuals have chosen to use a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. 

The main intention of a CPAP is to help ensure that your airways remain open during the overnight hours. This is accomplished through the use of a face mask and tube that are connected to a pump. 

The pump will supply air at a slightly higher pressure; lessening the chances that your airways narrow while asleep. Thanks to modern innovations, many CPAPs now come equipped with additional options such as automatic pressure adjustments and built-in humidifiers. These can often be customized to meet your unique requirements. 

However, we should note that a CPAP may not be able to completely eliminate the symptoms of your sleep apnea. This is even more relevant if you have already been diagnosed with a deviated septum. 

Choosing the Right Solution:

Do you have a deviated septum? Do you also have symptoms of sleep apnea, like snoring and waking up gasping for air? If so, speak with your primary care physician or a sleep specialist. He or she will be able to provide you with targeted solutions so that you can once again breathe easily.