Drug use can lead to several health problems. Some of those issues are specific to the way the drug is used. Nasal use routes, including sniffing, inhaling, or snorting substances, can have unique effects including causing a deviated septum. This occurs when the cartilage and the bone separate in the nasal cavity, which can lead to various short and long-term issues.

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Understanding a Deviated Septum: Causes and Symptoms

A deviated septum occurs when the nasal septum, the wall of cartilage that separates the nose into two chambers, is displaced to one side. This can make one nasal air passage smaller than the other. If severe enough, it can block one side of the nose, reducing airflow and causing difficulty breathing. Some people may also experience crusting or bleeding due to the drying effect of airflow. Nasal blockage can also occur from a deviated septum due to swelling of the tissue lining the nose.

For some people, a deviated septum is present at birth. They may have developed it before birth or due to an injury during childbirth. After birth, a deviated septum can be a result of an injury such as a car accident, contact sports, a fall, or a physical altercation. It can also be a result of normal development. As the nose grows, so does your septum, and sometimes can lean toward one side. The aging process may also affect nasal structures, worsening deviation. Another cause is

Snorting, inhaling, or sniffing drugs can also cause a deviated septum. Most of these substances can be corrosive causing damage to the delicate tissues in the nasal passages. Frequent use can also lead to inflammation and erosion of the nasal septum causing it to deviate.  

Most nasal septal deviations do not show much or any symptoms, and the person may not even know their septum is deviated. Some deviated septum symptoms include:

  • Obstruction of one or both nostrils. This blockage can cause difficulty breathing through one or both nostrils. It may be more noticeable when the person has nasal congestion due to a cold or allergies when nasal passages are narrowed from swelling.
  • Facial pain. Severe cases may cause one-sided facial pain which begins inside the nose.
  • Nosebleeds. A deviated nasal septum can increase dryness leading to nosebleeds.
  • Noisy breathing during sleep. A person with a deviated septum may exhibit noisy breathing when sleeping, including snoring and sleep apnea.
  • Preferring to sleep on a particular side. If one nasal passage is narrowed, the person may prefer to sleep on a particular side to optimize breathing.
  • Chronic sinus infections. A deviated septum can impact how the nose and sinuses drain fluids, which can lead to repeated sinus infections.

How Meth Use Affects the Nasal Passages

Cocaine is most often associated with deviated septum from drug use, commonly referred to as coke nose. However, methamphetamine use is also linked to affecting the nasal passages. Some people snort meth as a way to avoid the risks that come with injection (contracting hepatitis C or HIV or track marks). Snorting meth can lead to nosebleeds and sinus problems. Repeatedly snorting meth can lead to deterioration of the nasal septum, causing deviation. Meth is frequently cut with other substances, including synthetic opioid fentanyl, which can also have their own effects on the nasal tissues.

The Impact of Cocaine Use on Nasal Health

Cocaine is most commonly used by snorting or inhaling it, which can lead to various short-term and long-term effects on nasal health. When cocaine is snorted through the nose, it constricts nasal blood vessels. This constriction will reduce blood flow, leading to congestion, difficulty breathing, and nosebleeds. Reduced blood flow means less oxygen is delivered to the septum and its lining, causing the cartilage to die and perforations (holes) to form. It is also highly corrosive, so over time with repeated use it can significantly damage the nasal tissues. It can lead to inflammation, ulcers, and nasal cartilage erosion, which can cause a deviated septum or worse a nasal collapse.  The person can also experience reduced or loss of smell.

Recognizing the Signs of Drug-Induced Deviated Septum

deviated septum from drug use

Damage to the nasal septum from drug use can take years to develop. However, more frequent or heavy drug use can accelerate damage to the nose. Symptoms of a deviated septum can easily be missed because they are similar to the short-term effects of snorting drugs. The most common symptom is nasal congestion with one side of the nose being more congested than the other along with difficulty breathing. Other symptoms include:

  • Repeated sinus infections
  • Nosebleeds
  • Facial pain
  • Postnasal drip
  • Loud breathing or snoring during sleep
  • Whistling noise when breathing
  • Headaches
  • Obstruction of one or both nostrils
  • Preference of sleeping on a particular side
  • Nasal crusting or scabbing
  • Loss of sense of smell
  • Visible changes in nose appearance

If a person is experiencing these symptoms along with snorting or sniffing drugs, it is important to seek medical help as soon as possible. Perforations to the nasal septum can happen quickly and is important to get treatment before damage is severe and irreversible.

Short-Term and Long-Term Health Risks of a Deviated Septum

Individuals with a deviated septum face challenges or issues similar to when a person experiences a cold or allergies, such as trouble breathing, heaviness in the nostrils, congestion, irritation, and nosebleeds. However, instead of symptoms eventually clearing up, they persist and never truly go away.

In the long run, these symptoms can lead to more concerning health risks. The person may experience more frequent colds, allergies, and sinus infections. A deviated septum can also cause frequent headaches and facial pain. They may find it more difficult to catch their breath when exercising and feel easily winded.

They may also experience sleep apnea, a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep. Reduced oxygen to the body when sleeping can result in serious health risks including cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, dementia, depression, weight gain, and metabolic disease. Even though the person is getting enough sleep, they can feel tired and have cognitive issues due to sleep apnea.

Treatment Options for a Deviated Septum

A mild deviated septum can sometimes be relieved with medications such as decongestants, nasal steroid sprays, and antihistamines. More severe cases may require surgery. Septoplasty is a surgery that will remove excess bone or cartilage to even out the space of the nostrils, improving airflow. Septorhinoplasty combines septoplasty with what is known as a “nose job” if the bone has been damaged as well. These surgeries are usually done by a plastic surgeon and attempt to straighten and reposition the center of the nose while opening up nasal passageways. It is important to remember that no surgery is risk-free. Some risks associated with deviated septum surgery include infection, bleeding, and loss of sense of smell.

How WhiteSands Treatment Can Help with Addiction and Health Complications

If you or someone you love is struggling with drug addiction, it is important to get help as soon as possible. Not only for stopping further damage to the nasal passageways but also for improving the odds of successful long-term recovery. WhiteSands Treatment offers personalized recovery programs that will aim to heal the root causes of addiction and provide patients with the tools and skills necessary to manage their recovery for a lifetime.

Our state-of-the-art treatment centers offer private rooms with full bathrooms and an emphasis on comfort so patients can truly heal from their addiction. We aim to heal the body, mind, and spirit through group and individual therapy, holistic therapies, nutrition, and physical health. To learn more about our inpatient and outpatient drug and alcohol addiction treatment programs, please give us a call at (877) 855-3470 today.

If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.

About the Author

Jackie has been involved in the substance abuse and addiction treatment sector for over five years and this is something that she is truly eager about. She has a passion for writing and continuously works to create informative pieces that not only educate and inform the public about the disease of addiction but also provide solutions for those who struggle with drug and alcohol abuse.