Septal Perforation - Medical Aspects

Updated: Jul 20, 2022
  • Author: Rami K Batniji, MD; Chief Editor: Arlen D Meyers, MD, MBA  more...
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Practice Essentials

Septal perforations are a diagnostic challenge because various potential causes are possible. Therefore, elucidating the cause of the septal perforation requires obtaining a thorough history. Although several surgical options are available for the treatment of symptomatic septal perforations (see Septal Perforation - Surgical Aspects), this article focuses on the medical management of septal perforations. [1]

Signs and symptoms of septal perforation

Septal perforations are usually asymptomatic. However, some patients may present with a history of nasal obstruction, crusting, intermittent episodes of epistaxis, malodorous discharge from the nose, or a whistling sound during nasal breathing.

Workup in septal perforation

In patients without a likely cause for septal perforation or in patients with rheumatologic complaints, the following laboratory studies may be performed:

  • A significantly elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate can indicate an underlying rheumatologic disorder
  • In patients with cough, hemoptysis, sinusitis, bloody nasal discharge, or eye abnormalities (episcleritis or conjunctivitis), an antineutrophil cytoplasmic autoantibody (C-ANCA) test should be obtained to assess for Wegener granulomatosis
  • The rheumatoid factor level may be elevated in persons with rheumatoid arthritis, mixed connective tissue diseases, lupus, scleroderma, or other disorders
  • Elevated angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) levels can indicate the presence of sarcoidosis

Chest radiography may be performed to assess for sarcoidosis. A biopsy of the perforation edge to rule out sinonasal malignancy may be indicated if malignancy is suspected based on history or constitutional symptoms.

Management of septal perforation

Abstinence from the causative agent is of utmost importance in the medical management of septal perforations if the patient has a history of drug abuse (such as cocaine use) or the use of nasal decongestants or nasal steroid sprays.

Perforations of the posterior septum are typically asymptomatic and, as such, rarely require treatment. However, patients with intranasal crusting may benefit from medical treatments aimed at keeping the nose moist.

A silicone button prosthesis may relieve the sensation of nasal obstruction or the occurrence of a whistling sound upon nasal breathing, that can accompany perforations of the anterior septum.

In individuals who remain symptomatic despite nonsurgical treatments, surgical management may be of benefit.



The nasal septal mucoperichondrium provides the blood supply to the septal quadrangular cartilage. Any insult (eg, chemical, physical, iatrogenic) to this normal anatomy can lead to the development of a perforation.

A study by Li et al found that in patients with nasal septal perforation, wall shear stress and heat flux were significantly higher, particularly along the posterior perforation margin, in symptomatic individuals than in asymptomatic ones. The report indicated that a wall shear stress cutoff of 0.72 Pa has an 87% sensitivity and 100% specificity in separating asymptomatic from symptomatic perforations. [2]




Using facial bone computed tomography (CT) scans from 3708 patients, a study by Gold et al found the prevalence of nasal septal perforation in an urban population to be 2.05%. A history of drug abuse was the predominant risk factor, with cocaine being the most commonly used drug. [3]


Septal perforations can cause significant morbidity. The symptoms associated with septal perforations include nasal congestion or obstruction, nasal crusting and drainage, recurrent epistaxis, and a whistling sound from the nose. In addition to the symptoms related to nasal septal perforations, manifestations of the disease process that caused the perforation (eg, lupus, Wegener granulomatosis) may also carry significant morbidity.

A retrospective cohort study by Leong and Webb found that nasal septal perforation and chronic rhinosinusitis (CRS) have similar effects on quality of life, as measured using the Sino-Nasal Outcome Test-22 (SNOT-22). Patients in the CRS cohort had a higher mean total SNOT-22 score (57.2) than did those in the septal perforation cohort (50.2), but the difference was not statistically significant. Lack of statistical significance was also seen for differences in the mean scores for rhinologic and ear/facial symptoms and for the psychological and sleep dysfunction domains. However, the mean score for extranasal rhinologic symptoms was significantly higher for the CRH patients than for those with perforation (11.2 vs 6.4, respectively). [4]