UPDATE March 2018: I wrote this post almost two years ago. Things have actually gotten better since then. My septum still feels loose, but I’d completely forgotten about that until I re-read this post just now. My glasses are no longer too heavy, and the back of my nose no longer feels clogged (most of the time). I also only get post nasal drip now when I’m sick or when my allergies are acting up. I’ve also come to realize that my “sinus” headaches are likely either migraines or being caused by eye strain. I’m actually currently in vision therapy to help the eye strain. Anyway, it took a couple years, but I’m pretty much back to normal now. So if you can deal with a couple months of recovery and 1-2 years of getting back to full normal, the surgery may be worth it.
Oh how I regret thee, let me count the ways…
About 9 months ago I went to the ENT complaining of headaches in my face and that my nose was always stuffy. I had to sleep every single night with nasal strips or else I would end up mouth breathing all night. Every time I laid down, the inside of my nose would swell, often completely shut, and would be rendered useless. He sent me in for a CT scan and the results came back that I had a deviated septum, large turbinates, and a mucous sack in my left sinus. He told me I needed surgery to correct these issues. He also suggested that I get my nose straightened out while I was at it (it’s quite crooked and always has been) but I decided that was too much trouble and I’d just go with the septum/turbinate/sack surgery.
I was extremely scared of this surgery. I’d never had surgery before and had two main fears: that I’d wake up during surgery or that I’d die. Thankfully, neither happened, and the surgery went pretty smoothly. I can’t remember the names of the procedures (something like “submucous resection with turbinate reduction”), but they reduced my turbinates, removed the mucous sack, and straightened out my septum.
Recovery was a bitch. I woke up from surgery with a headache so intense that I couldn’t open my eyes at first. I was extremely nauseous on the car ride home and for about 3-4 days afterward. I ended up with an infection that gave me a low grade fever and such severe nausea (probably due to blood/mucous draining into my stomach) that I often tried to force myself to throw up just to get some relief. The pressure in my head was so intense that I had to sleep sitting up for the first 4+ days and I couldn’t bend over at all. I wasn’t even able to wash my hair for the first week because moving around made the pressure in my head increase. My nose drained constantly and I had to sleep with a dressing taped under it.
Understandably, my nose was completely swollen shut. If I’d thought it had been before the surgery, I was wrong. Have you ever had your nose completely incapable of intaking or expelling air? It’s miserable. Every time you try to swallow, it creates like a vacuum where air tries to suck in through your nose but can’t, so swallowing is extremely uncomfortable. Add to that the fact that I had to drink constantly due to dry mouth and my life just sucked. My nose was also quite dry and I had to use a humidifier at night and saline spray during the day.
During this time I learned how to use a neti pot, something I’d never thought I’d be able to do. It was really gross (and oddly satisfying) and usually gave me great relief for a day or so, removing a lot of mucous and dried blood that was clogging me up.
It took about a week or two to get through the initial surgery recovery. But I wasn’t out of the woods yet. Since then, I’ve had various side effects from the surgery that still plague me to this day. Sure, I can now sleep most nights without a nasal strip or dilator (that’s right, I said most. I still need them some nights), but at what cost?
The most distressing effect that I noticed first was that the inside of my nose felt different. I have to admit: I’m a nose picker. And when I went to feel the inside of my nose, my septum was placed farther to the left and there was a slight dip next to it in the right nostril. On the left side, the septum is straightened and smoothed out, a strong contrast to the dip on the right side. I’m pretty sure that part of it is numb as well, meaning I have to be super careful when I scratch the inside of my nose or I’ll make it bleed. This still bothers me to this day. I thought I’d get used to it, but I haven’t.
One of the first side effects that I noticed was that the back of my nose felt like it was clogged when I tried to push air through it from my mouth. The most common time I would notice this was when trying to sing to music in my car. Thankfully this has mostly subsided, but I still notice it from time to time, especially when running.
The most annoying side effect has been the weird post nasal drip that I now experience. I’d only ever previously experienced drip when I had a cold, but now I have it a few times a day usually. And it’s not just mucous caught at the back of my nose/throat; sometimes it feels like there’s a bubble trapped back there behind my nose that I can’t blow out. I don’t know if that’s what is actually going on, but that’s what it feels like, and it suuuuucks.
The most painful side effect is that sometimes my glasses are too heavy. This was more pronounced at the beginning of the recovery period and has diminished over time, but I still have days where my glasses make my nose sore. The glasses indent my nose now (which never happened before) and it makes my entire nose stiff and sore which sometimes gives me a headache. I never even knew that your nose could feel stiff. I’m thankful this isn’t an everyday thing anymore, but it still happens at least once a week, and I hate it.
Lately, I’ve started to notice again that my septum seems to be, for lack of a better word, loose. I can grab it and move it from side to side. This was also more pronounced at the beginning of the surgery; I actually had to brace one nostril if I was touching the other, but it’s still bothering me to this day. I no longer have to brace the other side of my nose, but I can feel it move from time to time, and the very fact that I can grab it and move it around bothers the hell out of me. It causes me great anxiety and makes me worry that the septum is going to go back to its original position.
I still get sinus headaches, too. They seem to come and go in waves (probably related to allergies), but I’m still getting them. I get them right in the middle of my face: in the forehead, behind the eyes, and around the nose.
Speaking of allergies, nothing works. I’m currently on Allegra, which seems to help with the night time stuffiness, but nothing else. I’m still stuffy all day. I still never have 100% air flow through my nose. In this respect, I feel 100% the same as I did pre-surgery, which kinda sucks.
So, to recap:
Pros of surgery:
- Most nights I don’t need to sleep with nasal strips or a nasal dilator to open up my nose
- Learned to use a neti pot
Cons of surgery:
- Nose is weak; glasses feel too heavy and make it stiff
- Weird post nasal drip bubble
- Air flow sometimes feels blocked in sinus behind nose
- Septum feels loose
- Inside of nose feels different
- Still get headaches
- Still feel stuffy, to varying degrees, all the time
- Still occasionally need strips/dilator
I’m uncomfortable a lot of the time. I traded one problem for 5 new ones while keeping 3 old ones that the surgery was supposed to fix. This is causing me great distress day in and day out, especially when I’m trying to exercise outside and I have snot running down my throat and trouble expelling air through my nose. Or when I’m trying to work at my desk and my glasses feel like they weigh 5lbs and make my nose stiff.
Most people I talked to/read about were happy with their surgical results. No one talked about any of these side effects, except the glasses thing, which they said would go away. I feel extremely depressed that I have permanently altered my body for very little benefit and have actually made things worse.
Ignoring the debilitating mental aspects of this, I also spent around $1500 (after insurance) for this surgery which I am still paying off. The insurance statement said that it cost over $17,000. So I’m in debt for a surgery that didn’t even work and is causing me mental distress and I’m honestly considering therapy for because I just can’t get over the fact that I can’t fix what I’ve done.
I don’t want to scare anyone out of a septoplasty or turbinate reduction. These procedures can greatly increase someone’s quality of life. But they didn’t do that for me and I wish I’d known what would happen. I wish to the very bottom of my heart that I didn’t have this surgery. I’d rather sleep with a stuffy nose every night.