Is a Deviated Septum giving you a headache?

by James on 8 April 2008

Recently I got an email from Scott, who had just been diagnosed with a "deviated septum".  He has daily headaches, and was wondering if a deviated septum could be responsible.

First, a little background.  What is a deviated septum?

Deviated septum

Your nasal septum is the partition between the right and left parts of your nose.  When a person has a deviated septum, it’s pulled over to one side or the other (the one in the illustration is deviated to your left).

There can be a number of causes, and sometimes we can’t be sure why one particular person has a deviation.  Sometimes surgery can cause this, or an injury, or perhaps a traumatic birth, or it may even occur during the baby’s development in the womb.

Question #1 – can a deviated septum trigger headache symptoms?  Yes, in some people it can.

Question #2 – how likely is it that a deviated septum is the primary trigger or cause?  In other words, what are the chances that surgery will solve the headache problem in any given person?  In most cases, it’s not very likely that surgery will solve your headache problem.

A deviated septum is actually very common – 4 in 5 people have it.  One way to see if you might have a deviation is to try breathing through either nostril while blocking the other.  If there’s a significant difference in air flow, you may have a deviation.

There are at least two reasons this may cause headaches.  Most commonly, the septum may block mucus, causing frequent recurring sinus infection.  That’s a major recipe for a headache!

Drs Young and Silberstein have also noticed a different kind of "deviated septum headache", which they write about in their book Migraine and Other Headaches:
Rarely, a deviated septum may cause a one-sided headache on the side toward which the septum deviates.  If the septum deviation is causing the headache, placing a small piece of paper soaked in an anesthetic (lidocaine or Novocaine®) will relieve the headache.  The treatment is surgical straightening of the deviated sinus.

Note that this is rare – it’s more likely that, if you have problems, it will be with a sinus infection.

If neither of these situations seem to fit you, chances are surgery will not help.

If you do opt for surgery, it’s called a septoplasty, and it’s done in a day.  It usually won’t change the look of your nose.  It is a fairly safe surgery, though with all surgery there are risks.  It won’t instantly cure sinus infections, but it can make you less susceptible.  The more deviated the septum was, the greater the improvement usually is.  Read more about surgery for a deviated septum here.

Have you had experience with surgery for a deviated septum?  Did it help you with your headaches?  Leave a comment and tell us about it.

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Karin September 3, 2008 at 11:02 pm

Hi
Three septoplasties for deviated septum ,and opening up very small opening to sinuses (ethmoid) Sinus infections are gone. Sinus headaches are gone.Breathing and stuffiness normalized. NO more antibiotics!!!! 6 years.BUT Migraines/clusters? not. Related to weather/ hormones ????. Searching for answers and cause . Getting little help. Surgery may have worsened? Is it possible, perhaps scaring?Things just keep getting worse.

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Pat Vaughn September 13, 2012 at 9:01 am

Hi Karin, I just read your comments from 2008 and wonder how you are doing today? We are looking for solution(s) to same symptoms you mentioned..including whether hormones and/or other has been determined..

Thank you so much for taking the time here to respond. psv

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Mary October 31, 2008 at 11:55 am

Hello,

I would like to know what kind of remedies, natural or other, are available for persistent migraine-type headaches caused by a deviated septum. I’ve tried just about everything, but nothing seems to give any significant relief.

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G Banfield March 29, 2009 at 12:49 pm

I have a history of sinus infections. For the past few months I have gotten worse with symptoms such as post nasal drip, nothing flowing through the nostrils, headache, facial pain, ears cracking and congestion. About 8 years ago I saw an ear, nose & throat specialist and was told there was nothing wrong and that there is no such thing as a sinus infection. I have been using sinus rinse but it is not helping a whole lot. If anyone has any suggestions, it would be greatly appreciated.

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Liza May 28, 2011 at 10:06 am

I’ve been suffering with sinuses pain as well for about two years, my ENT told me to use Nazalcorth which has helped me, but not to use it too often, you can use it for five days as prescribed by your specialist. Or also you can try going to the beach and swimming with your head under the water or you can also buy Maxi Air Nose Cones from the drug store…

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Tarun Saluja June 26, 2009 at 5:58 am

Hi Karin!
You are lucky because after 3 surgeries your all problems had gone. I have gone for a septoplasty 2 times and FESS 1 time and after the surgeries i felt very little improvement in the symptoms.

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Nancy November 21, 2009 at 7:48 pm

I have deviated septum adenoids and turbinates surgery and also my tonsils removed. My tonsils are doing pretty good little pain from the scabies, but my nose still hurting;sometimes i can breath fine other times is stuff. What is bothering me the most is the constant headaches that dont go away. Is this is normal? my 1st visit to the surgeon he said everything was all right i dont see him again until 12/7/09. My nose is stuff sometimes other times is running and lot of sneezing. I do my saline solution but i dont think is helping. Can i take sinus pills for the heaches? Any adviced

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Liza June 5, 2012 at 10:28 am

Hi, I’m Liza, I have the same issues with my Deviated Septum, I struggle a lot with it, I tried not taking too many medications for it as I cope with lots of head aches, I think you should take Sinus/Allergies Medications instead, but consult with your doctors first, specially if you happen to have High Blood Pressure or not, if you do by any chance, Sinus Medications will increase you B/P. Another thing keeping your home clean from dust.. etc.. that’s makes such a big differences……

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Kamran December 9, 2009 at 12:50 am

Hi All!
i had broken my nose in my school times after that i developed recurrent throat infections, Blocked nose etc..i went to doctor in 2001 where i was diagnosed with DNS so i went through a surgery Called SMR (Sub Mucousal Resection) This surgery helped me alot but recurrent sinus & throat infection didnt go & offcourse post nasal drip i met an ENT specialist again he said there is no deviation at all & i dont need any more septoplasty. well life was horrible.. now ive started drinking Ginger Tea & gargling with Cassia Fistula and Nasal irrigation at night & it helped alot…. with u all the best

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James December 9, 2009 at 8:08 am

Thanks for all your comments.

It’s so important to do your research before you resort to surgery. Even so-called “simple” or “minor” surgeries can have a far-reaching impact.

There are many, many treatments for migraine and headache these days – it would truly take a lifetime to try them all. Do your research and make sure you’re trying what has the best chance of success.

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Chelle February 20, 2011 at 11:50 am

Bumped heads with my son a few weeks ago and have had severe headaches ever since. Doctor diagnosed a deviated septum and possibly broken nose. Waiting to seee the speciailist. Pain is mostly centered on the front of my head/top of my nose. Almost like a sinus infection pain but not quite as spread out. Pain is horrible, Motrin/Tylenol don’t touch it. What can I do for pain relief until I can get in to see the specialist???

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Elaine January 10, 2012 at 7:31 pm

After repeated migraines which I thought were sinus infections my ENT had me get a CAT scan which showed a slight deviated septum. After surgery to correct it, it did not change the frequency of my migraines.

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jennyct February 19, 2012 at 7:24 pm

Years of headaches on one side radiating from above teeth to eye. Sinus cysts that keep getting bigger. Post nasal on same side as headaches. Had an abscess above one tooth that could ONLY be diagnosed with CT scan (normal dental xrays) and I thought that was the end of it. Well every time I brush my teeth with an electric toothbrush, it’s back and the only thing that helps is over the counter nasal spray. I even wake up unable to move affected eyelid in the morning.
I guess I need to try the local anesthetic test next, but it’s rare, right?

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Douglas June 2, 2012 at 2:05 am

All the symptoms are there for me, post nasal drip, difficulty breathing on one side of nostril, headaches, sleep apnea. Things I’ve done sleep on side with mouthpiece, nasal spray, no alcohol, no computer or food within 2 hours of bedtime. Still doesn’t work. Most have said surgery doesn’t help, what’s left? I guess I need to be more consistent with my treatments.

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Linda June 14, 2012 at 9:03 pm

Fell a year ago May, now sinus pain, eye pain, headachs, running nose, sinus pressure, face tingling and ringing in ears. Dr. says I have a deviated septum, I have had so many medical problems. I am going to have surgery next month. I need to get some relief.

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Sangram March 5, 2013 at 1:28 am

Septum of my nose is deviated to its RIGHT. IT causes less air to flow from my right nostril and more to flow from the left nostril. I’m experiencing Headache on my Left side of the head and I personally think it is due to the excess airflow from the Left nostril. Also, eyesight of my right eye is getting lower and lower and the right area of my face has become heavier. Even the hearing capacity of my right ear has affected. Has deviated septum (to right) caused my face to feel heavier to its right side (including my right eye site and right ear affected).. and the excess flow of air from left nostril giving me headache on my left side of the head ?? Can anyone please help me on this.

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Mary March 30, 2013 at 11:39 pm

This summer, my teenage daughter developed a dull constant headache, right in the center of her lower forehead. No over-the- counter or prescription medications reduced the pain. This past week she had septoplasty for a deviated septum, turbinate reduction, and also had a bone spur removed. After suffering for 7 months with the constant headache, it is now gone.
During the long process of diagnosing her problem, one Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) doctor, used Afrin nasal spray on her and in about an hour her headache was gone. When the spray wore off (8 hours later), the headache returned. The Afrin was a huge clue in determining that my daughter’s headache was likely due to a nasal problem. (Note: Afrin is very addicting and can severely damage your nose and should not be used for more than 3 days, I do not recommend using it, but it could serve as a beneficial diagnostic tool.)
The radiologist who read my daughter’s CT of the sinuses scan did not mention a bone spur on the report and listed the septal deviation as slight. Of the 4 ENT’s we saw, one detected a bone spur and a contact point on the CT scan, he also said that her septum was severely deviated. Two of the ENT’s, said that headaches do not come from nose problems. They did not give my daughter a thorough exam and and just referred us to neurologists, (which we had already seen.)
We are very thankful that we have good insurance and were able to see multiple doctors and that we finally found one that actually cared, took the time, and knew that….. yes, some headaches are caused by nose problems.

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Mary March 31, 2013 at 6:57 am

Only one of the doctors (the one that diagnosed my daughters’ problem) took the time to do the anesthetic test, (as mentioned in the above article, in regards to Drs Young and Silberstein book.) Although my daughters’ septum was deviated to the left, the headache was centrally located, the anesthetic test did lessen her headache.

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Amy September 30, 2013 at 1:24 pm

Mary,
Your daughter’s problem sounds very similar to my son’s. His ENT does not think a deviated septum has any relation to headaches. I’m interested in finding an ENT in Dallas that is open to the idea of the deviated septum causing headaches. If you don’t mind, please let me know who your ENT is. Even if he/she is not in Dallas, I can check with him for a local recommendation. Thank you.

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Mary October 1, 2013 at 7:53 pm

Hi Amy,
My daughter actually had the same headache problem and surgery in 2010. I felt her story was too long to earlier post but I will elaborate as the details may help you are someone else. The first ENT that discovered my daughter’s nose problem did not want to do the surgery because of my daughter’s age and a pediatric ENT did the first surgery in 2010. Immediately after that surgery, the headache was gone. But 2 years later it came back. We went back to the pediatric doctor and he examined her and looked a new Ct scan of the sinuses, and said there was nothing wrong. He told us to see a neurologist. Even though he knew my daughter’s headache was gone after his surgery he was still telling us headaches do not come from nose problems. We then went back to the ENT that had found her problem, he examined my daughter and compared the old CT scan to the new and told us that the bone spur and deviated septum were still there. The pediatric doctor had only removed the tip of the bone spur and did not adequately straighten her septum, and it somehow shifted. She also had extremely enlarged turbinates. He explained that the deviated septum was causing the bone spur to push on a nerve area, this was then sending a pain signal to the brain, and causing her to feel the constant headache. The ENT again did not want to do the surgery as my daughter now also had a septal perforation from the first surgery. He referred us to a plastic surgeon. In the meantime, I found Dr. Smith online, from Houston, TX, an ENT who specialized in headaches. He has a regular practice but also offers a CT Scan Review Program, for anyone that does not live nearby or is in need of a second opinion. He reviewed our daughter’s CT scan and reported the same things wrong as the ENT. Dr. Smith then gave his surgical recommendations. So we were now fairly certain, this was again the same problem she had in 2010. The plastic surgeon did not see a bone spur in her nose or on the CT scan. We asked him, “If he were doing the surgery and there was a bone spur, would he see it. ” He said, “He did not know.” So went to a younger ENT, who said her septum was very deviated and he thought he could see the bone spur but he also could not see the spur on the CT scan. He knew that headaches can sometimes be associated with nose problems, but he had never done surgery on someone with a constant headache. He did not know if surgery would take the headache away but was very confident and reassured us that everything that needed to be done would be. He said if my daughter has a bone spur, he would absolutely see it during the surgery. After this surgery it took a few days for the swelling inside her nose to go down, and when it did, the headache was gone. Dr. David T. Wahle at Tri-State Ear Nose and Throat in Evansville, IN found her problems. Dr. Taha Shipchandler at IU Health in Indianapolis, IN did the second surgery. The doctor that reviewed her CT was Dr. Kevin Smith, 640 Fannin, Suite 810, Houston, TX. I’m not sure of your distance to Houston, but Dr. Smith may be able to refer you to a colleague in the Dallas area. His office staff was extremely helpful and answered the many questions I had. We were very happy to have found him. Dr. Smith’s website is kevinsmithmd.com
I wish the best of luck to you and your son and pray you are able to find the help you need. Do not give up. If you have any other questions, I would be more than happy to help.

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Tudor Sfatosu April 13, 2014 at 5:32 pm

I suffer of pain in the forehead for seven years. Few people were able to get me on the right path. I recently found that it might be from the deviated septum. I see ny ENT doctor in 4 weeks. I find it quite long as my pain is there each day. I am happy to see your comments and the fact that there is a solution. Things to remember: bone spur and CT scan.
Good luck!

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