Table of Contents
A deviated septum is a common condition that can be completely unnoticeable, or it can lead to a wide range of symptoms and secondary conditions that decrease quality of life. For veterans, this condition could qualify for disability benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
To qualify for VA disability benefits, the veteran must be able to present medical documentation showing that the deviated septum developed as a result of an injury sustained during military service in order to receive a VA rating and possible benefits. While most people have some level of unevenness in the nasal septum, a severe deviation can lead to breathing problems, headaches, sinus infections, and more.
Injuries that result in a broken nose are common among those who serve in the U.S. military, so the secondary issues that can result from a deviated septum also are considered for VA disability benefits.
7 Symptoms of a Deviated Septum
Chronic Sinus Infections
Blocked Nasal Passage
Migraines and Headaches
A deviated septum is a common medical condition. Most people who don’t have a perfectly centered nasal septum may never even realize it. In fact, by some estimates, as much as 80% of the U.S. population has a septum that’s at least mildly crooked or off-center. However, for many patients, a deviated septum results in blocked airflow through one or both nostrils. This can lead to additional conditions like sinusitis and sleep apnea.
When a veteran’s service-connected deviated septum creates medical issues, it may be possible to qualify for VA disability benefits. It’s worth noting that winning a claim may be difficult, but understanding how the VA views a deviated septum and associated secondary disorders is an important first step.
If you decide to move forward with a VA disability benefits claim, you may want to work with a knowledgeable and qualified VA disability lawyer to help increase your chances for success. In addition, claim denials for a deviated septum are fairly common, so a disability attorney can also help you navigate the often laborious and complex appeals process.
What Is a Deviated Septum?
The nasal septum is the thin wall of cartilage and bone that separates the right and left nostrils – the septum is covered with a mucous membrane. In a perfect case, the septum is straight and divides the nasal cavity into two equal-sized nostrils. However, it’s rare to find someone without a nasal septum that is at least slightly off-center or deviated.
In some cases, a deviated septum may completely close off a nostril, making it essentially impossible to breathe. In those cases, a deviated nasal septum may require nasal surgery – this type of surgical procedure is called a septoplasty.
During the procedure, the surgeon – usually an ear, nose and throat specialist – will make a small incision to separate the membrane that covers the nasal septum, then remove any cartilage and bone that are causing deviation. The surgeon then replaces the membranes in such a way that the nasal cavity is evenly divided, and then sutures them together with stitches. This procedure typically is performed on an outpatient basis and takes no longer than a couple of hours.
7 Symptoms of a Deviated Septum
For mild septal deviations, a person may experience no symptoms at all. But for others with more severe deviations, a crooked septum can make nasal breathing, sleeping, and other essential functions difficult.
1. Chronic Sinus Infections
Chronically blocked nasal passages can become hospitable breeding grounds for bacteria that cause frequent and/or long-lasting, chronic sinus infections.
Noisy nasal breathing or loud snoring during sleep is often caused by swelling and inflammation within the nasal passages, which can be a direct result of a deviated septum. A deviated septum also can lead to sub-quality sleep because of the inability to breathe effectively through the nose.
3. Blocked Nasal Passage
Since the off-center nasal septum results in one nasal passage being smaller than the other, it’s very easy for that smaller nostril to become blocked, resulting in nasal congestion. This is particularly onerous if you have a cold or suffer from allergies that encourage additional inflammation within the sinus cavities. In the most severe cases, both nasal passages may become blocked.
In some cases, the surface of the nasal septum can dry out, which increases your chance of suffering broken nasal capillaries, which leads to nosebleeds. This often occurs because of the added effort it takes to move air through obstructed nasal passages. Because the mucous membrane covering the nasal septum is full of small blood vessels, it’s easy for dryness to trigger bleeding within the nose.
5. Migraines and Headaches
The pressure associated with blocked sinuses and nasal congestion can lead to headaches or migraines. An increased chance of headaches also is potentially linked to the higher incidence of sinus infections among adults with a deviated septum. This is especially true for those who suffer from migraines since infection and inflammation within the nasal cavities are often migraine triggers.
6. Facial Pain
Sometimes with a deviated septum, surfaces within the nose rub against one another, causing pressure. Some patients report that this causes facial pain and sensitivity to touch.
7. Dry Mouth
If nasal passages are blocked, this can encourage mouth breathing more than is comfortable. This movement of air through the mouth can lead to chronic dry mouth.
What Are the Causes of a Deviated Septum?
The causes of a deviated septum vary from person to person. Some people may be born with a connective tissue disease that causes a deviated septum, while others may develop a crooked septum as the result of an injury. For some infants, this type of injury can occur during childbirth or even while in the womb. Common sources of trauma related to a deviated septum include injuries from playing contact sports, rough play such as wrestling, severe falls, or automobile accidents.
Any injury that results in a broken nose can increase the chances of developing a deviated septum. These types of injuries are common among U.S. military veterans. According to one study, cranial and oral–maxillofacial injuries accounted for 33% of military visits to military treatment facilities for battle injuries during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
In addition, the natural aging process can change the shape and position of the septum, worsening a deviated nasal septum over time. So, a deviated septum developed during military service may worsen for a veteran in the years following separation from service.
The VA does provide a 10% disability rating for a deviated septum if the deviated septum is traumatic. To qualify, at least 50% of the nasal passage must be blocked on both sides or 100% of the nasal passage blocked on one side.
To be deemed eligible for benefits related to a deviated septum, you must be able to show that your deviated septum was either caused or exacerbated by a service-connected injury. Please note that a 10% rating is the only VA disability rating assigned for a deviated nasal septum, no matter how severe. The condition must be deemed traumatic to receive the 10% rating. However, a veteran’s disability rating can increase if the deviated septum creates secondary conditions like sleep apnea.
Can a Deviated Septum Cause Sleep Apnea?
While the relationship between a deviated septum and sleep apnea is not 100% clear, some medical evidence indicates that a deviated septum may contribute to the development of sleep apnea or the worsening of sleep apnea symptoms.
The airway obstruction caused by a deviated septum may result in a buildup of negative pressure as a sleeper’s chest rises and falls in an attempt to fill the lungs with air. This pressure drop can close the sleeper’s airway, which results in apnea – or a sudden stop in breathing. Medical experts argue that if the crooked septum obstructs the nasal airway, and the obstructed airway leads to apnea, then obstructive sleep apnea can be considered a secondary condition related to a deviated septum.
Military veterans with a substantially deviated septum often tend to develop sleep apnea. Many veterans have been awarded a rating for sleep apnea caused by a service-connected deviated septum.
Secondary Conditions Caused by a Deviated Septum
In some cases, a veteran may be able to file a VA disability claim for one or more secondary conditions related to a service-connected deviated septum. This can help increase the veteran’s overall VA disability rating. To earn a combined VA disability rating for multiple conditions, a veteran must show that the deviated septum is service-connected and that the condition has led to secondary conditions.
While the VA only assigns a 10% disability rating for a deviated septum, the veteran can receive a combined rating for secondary conditions. The two conditions we’ve outlined below are the most commonly related to a deviated septum.
Sleep apnea can be a dangerous medical condition that results in intermittent stopping and starting of breathing throughout the night as a patient sleeps. VA disability ratings for sleep apnea range from 0 to 100%. Sometimes a disability rating for sleep apnea can be awarded as a secondary disability caused by a deviated septum. The ratings for both sleep apnea and a deviated septum may be combined for a higher overall VA disability rating and greater benefits.
It’s not uncommon for people with a dramatically deviated septum to suffer frequent sinus infections, a condition known as chronic sinusitis. Sinusitis is considered chronic when the sinus cavities are inflamed and swollen for at least three months and are unresponsive to treatment. The stuffy nose that results from not being able to breathe easily can form a breeding ground for bacteria that leads to infection within the sinus cavities that is difficult to fully alleviate.
Symptoms of sinusitis may include runny nose, sore throat, difficulty breathing, and sinus cavity pain. VA disability ratings for sinusitis range from 0% to 50%, so the severity of the condition will determine the specific rating the VA would assign.
VA Disability Benefits for a Deviated Septum
Depending on its severity, a deviated septum can bring about symptoms that disrupt everything from sleep to daily functioning. If you are suffering from these types of symptoms, including sleep apnea or sinusitis, it’s important to find out whether your condition qualifies for VA disability benefits.
Talk to your doctor about the medical implications of your deviated septum, and talk to a qualified disability attorney or Benefits Advisor to find out more about how the VA may rate your disability. If your quality of life is suffering, it’s important to get help to make sure you qualify for the VA disability benefits you deserve.