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Repair of Nasal Septal Perforation

Surgery Overview

The nasal septum is the structure between the nostrils that separates the nasal passages. The septum, composed of cartilage and thin bone, can develop a hole (perforation) in the cartilage as a complication of previous nasal surgery, from cocaine use, excessive nose picking, trauma, cancer, or diseases such as tuberculosis, sarcoidosis, or syphilis. As damage reduces blood supply in the septum, the cartilage begins to die, and a hole develops.

Some perforations can cause bleeding, pain, and a whistling sound when inhaling. If dried blood or scabs build up, you could also have trouble breathing through your nose.

Many perforations do not need to be closed. Small perforations may need only frequent rinsing with saltwater (saline) solutions and applying lubricating gels. Both can be bought without a prescription.

Several surgical techniques may be used to close a larger perforation. A surgeon may use tissue from inside your nose or from another part of your body (autograft) to stitch into the hole. Other doctors may use tissue to create a flap to cover the perforation.

Surgery for large perforations usually requires general anesthesia.

What to Expect After Surgery

You will begin rinsing the nose several times a day with saline. Your doctor will instruct you on how to use the saline. You can expect drainage after surgery.

You may need to have your nose cleaned in the doctor's office a few times. Your nose should be healed 2 to 3 weeks after the nasal pack is removed.

Avoid blowing your nose, strenuous exercise, and bending forward for a few days. Also take care not to injure your nose during exercise or other activities.

Why It Is Done

Some nasal septal perforations can cause symptoms such as bleeding and pain. Small perforations can create a whistling sound when you inhale. In cases of long-term, severe perforation, the bridge of the nose can develop a saddle-shaped deformity. Surgery can resolve these problems.

How Well It Works

Surgery to repair a nasal septal perforation is usually successful. But some large perforations may be hard to close.

Risks

Bleeding and infection can occur after any surgery. You should contact your doctor if you have:

  • Heavy bleeding. Mild bleeding is normal.
  • A fever of 101°F (38.3°C) or higher.
  • Severe pain. Mild pain is expected.
  • Pus.
  • A foul smell coming from the nose.
  • A persistent headache.

Sometimes the perforation may reopen and need another surgery.

What to Think About

Success of surgery depends to some extent on the size of the perforation and also on proper postsurgery care at home. Large perforations are more difficult to close.

The repair may not be as successful in people who smoke or have diabetes as in other people, because these conditions can reduce blood supply to the septum.

A doctor may want to try a nonsurgical technique to close the perforation before suggesting surgery. In some cases, a doctor may insert septal "buttons" made of silicone or other materials that are cut to fit the perforation.

Other Places To Get Help

Organization

American Rhinologic Society
P.O. Box 495
Warwick, NY 10990-0495
Phone: (845) 988-1631
Fax: (845) 986-1527
Email: arsinfo@american-rhinologic.org
Web Address: http://american-rhinologic.org
 

The American Rhinologic Society is an organization for doctors who treat people with diseases of the nose and sinuses. Patients and other interested individuals can use this Web site to find information about diseases of the sinuses and nose. Doctors and other health professionals can use this Web site to learn about all ARS activities, including scientific meetings and abstracts.


Related Information

References

Other Works Consulted

  • Lund VJ (2009). Acute and chronic nasal disorders. In JB Snow Jr, PA Wackym, eds., Ballenger's Otorhinolaryngology: Head and Neck Surgery, 17th ed., pp. 557–566. Hamilton, ON: BC Decker.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Donald R. Mintz, MD - Otolaryngology
Last Revised November 7, 2011

Last Revised: November 7, 2011

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