Beyond Hay Fever: Surgical Options for Better Breathing

Many people troubled by chronic congestion don’t even realize there’s a problem — but thanks to heavy breathing, snoring, or open-mouthed chewing, their spouses, friends, and co-workers might.

Nasal congestion that isn’t related to illness can develop slowly and be present for years. Without even realizing it, sufferers can adjust and adapt to their new normal. Although many people dismiss their symptoms as seasonal or environmental allergies, there are a host of other conditions that can cause stuffiness. When these issues are structural, such as a deviated septum, they may not even respond to medication.

Girl smells sunflower in nature

Deviated Septum

The classic deviated septum has reached almost mythical status thanks to its role as scapegoat each time a celebrity emerges with a new nose. But septal deviation is a real condition that’s actually exceedingly common. Septal deviation occurs when the septum (the bony, vertical strip that separates the chambers of the nose) leans too far to the left or right, obstructing airflow in the affected nostril. Although it doesn’t cause noticeable issues for most people, more severe septal deviation can lead to significant breathing trouble.

Happily, rhinoplasty (or, more specifically, septoplasty) is a safe, common, and permanent remedy for a deviated septum. According to the website of plastic surgeon Dr. Thomas Hubbard, the condition is so common that repairing a deviated septum is often a typical part of cosmetic rhinoplasty surgery in his Virginia Beach practice.

Past Injury

Thanks to its prominent position on the face, the nose is especially prone to injury. Although bumps, bruises, and scrapes are unlikely to cause any long-term damage, more severe injuries, including breaks and fractures, can result in respiratory trouble later on.


Again, the preferred option for restoring full nasal function is a traditional rhinoplasty. Contrary to popular belief, the procedure isn’t a strictly cosmetic one. Instead, it can be performed to improve the function of the nose without significantly altering its overall appearance. Of course, if your nose’s size or shape bothers you, you can improve it aesthetically during surgery, as well.

Swollen Turbinates

Turbinates are bony “shelves” that sit on either side of the interior of the nose. Filled with blood vessels, turbinates are not static. They shrink and swell throughout our lives in response to allergens, illness, and other nasal irritants. However, some people may experience chronically swollen turbinates on one or both sides of the nose. At its worst, this condition can cause complete nasal obstruction and even facial pain.

When considering a treatment for obstructive turbinates, it’s important to be conservative. That’s because these structures serve major functions, including directing the flow of air into the lungs and keeping airborne contaminants out of the lungs. Ear, nose, and throat doctors recommend removing only a portion of the turbinates to preserve their function while still alleviating symptoms. Other approaches use laser energy or radiofrequency energy to reduce their size.

If you are having problems breathing through your nose and think you may benefit from one of these treatments, consult with an experienced physician. Your primary care doctor should be able to refer you to a plastic surgeon or ENT specialist, depending on your needs.