Nose surgery for breathing can help to correct structural issues that disrupt airway function. There are several types of nose surgery that can help a person breathe better, including septoplasty and nasal valve repair.

Nose breathing helps prevent respiratory illnesses such as colds and the flu, regulates airflow, and lessens the chance of issues such as tooth decay. When a person’s nasal airways are not clear, a person can miss out on these benefits.

A 2020 review highlights that unobstructed nose breathing plays an important role in proper sleep physiology by stimulating ventilation and increasing nasal airway resistance.

Nasal obstructions may lead to sleep apnea, and nose surgery for breathing is a helpful treatment option that doctors may suggest.

This article will explain the major types of nose surgery a person may consider and what to expect in terms of procedure, cost, recovery, and more.

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People who have persistent trouble breathing through their nose may benefit from nose surgery.

Reasons for nose breathing difficulties can include:

  • structural abnormalities
  • nasal polyps, which are soft, benign growths inside the nose
  • tumors
  • long-term sinusitis

There are several types of surgery a doctor can perform to reduce or eliminate a nasal obstruction. The best one for each individual will depend on the cause of their breathing difficulties.

A septoplasty is a procedure to straighten the nasal septum, the internal structure of cartilage and bone that divides the nasal cavity in half.

The main goal of septoplasty is to improve breathing by clearing a nasal airway obstruction resulting from a deviated septum.

Nasal valve repair is a type of surgery that targets the narrowest point of a person’s nasal airway.

This surgery aims to improve breathing and airflow by strengthening and reshaping nostril structural support.

Surgeons use a cartilage graft to increase nasal valve structural stability.

Nasal turbinates are bony structures covered with soft tissue located inside the nose. They humidify and warm inhaled air. If turbinates get too large, they can obstruct airflow. There are multiple sets of turbines in the nose.

Doctors can perform a turbinate reduction in several ways:

  • Turbinectomy: A surgeon removes all or part of the turbinate.
  • Turbinoplasty: A tool changes the turbinate position. One example is submucous turbinate resection, which involves removing the bone from the lower turbinates.
  • Laser ablation: Radiofrequency energy or laser light shrinks turbinate tissue.

A surgeon may perform this procedure alongside a septoplasty.

The term “nose job” usually refers to rhinoplasty, a surgical procedure that changes the shape of the nose. This surgery can be cosmetic and change a person’s appearance, or it can be functional and make it easier for the person to breathe.

Rhinoplasty can repair issues such as structural abnormalities and injuries to the nose.

Doctors can perform rhinoplasty as a stand-alone procedure or combine it with another type of surgery, such as septoplasty.

Sinus surgery involves opening blocked sinus passages. Like nasal surgery, sinus surgery can help people who are experiencing breathing difficulties. Sometimes surgeons combine the two types of surgery.

Surgery preparation includes a review of the person’s medical history and an assessment of their current health status, using tests such as blood work.

The surgical team will create a plan for the individual during the lead-up to surgery. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), this may include:

  • following specific instructions regarding medications and supplements, such as stopping the use of blood thinning medication several days before surgery
  • fasting from a specified time onward, such as midnight the night before surgery
  • stopping smoking

An anesthesiologist — a doctor who administers anesthesia — will discuss sleep medication options with the person having surgery. They may suggest general anesthesia or intravenous sedation with a local anesthetic.

The exact process during nose surgery and the length of the procedure depend on the type of surgery a person has.

On surgery day, the person arrives at the hospital several hours before their scheduled procedure. Preoperative procedures from this point may include monitoring vital signs and starting an IV line to administer fluids and medications.

Depending on the procedure, an anesthesiologist administers either general or local anesthesia. If they use general anesthesia, doctors insert a breathing tube through the person’s mouth. This process is known as intubation.

The type of nose surgery a person is having dictates the location of the incision.

For example, the ASPS explains that closed rhinoplasty can involve an incision hidden inside the nose, while an open rhinoplasty involves an incision on a part of the septum called the columella. Once the repair is complete, the team stitches the incision shut.

Doctors extubate, or remove the breathing tube, once they have closed the incision. Extubation can occur while the person is still asleep or after they have regained consciousness. Hospital staff may then move the person to a recovery room for postsurgical monitoring.

According to the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS), the person may go home the same day as their surgery or spend a night in the hospital. It can depend on the type of surgery a person has and whether they experience any complications.

Before discharge time, hospital staff will provide:

  • instructions for at-home wound care, such as dressing changes
  • prescriptions for antibiotics and pain relievers, if necessary
  • a recommendation for when to see a doctor for suture removal, unless the stitches used are dissolvable

After nose surgery, a person may experience swelling, numbness, or bruising. They may also temporarily lose some sense of smell.

The doctor may place a metal or plastic splint on the outside of the person’s nose. They may also place nonabsorbable packing material in the nostrils.

A healthcare professional will advise a person about the length of recovery.

The surgeon’s office will schedule a follow-up visit after the procedure to ensure that recovery and healing are progressing as they should.

The outcome of nose surgery may gradually change as a person’s body ages. The effectiveness of this treatment may also vary depending on the cause of the surgery. However, success rates and patient satisfaction survey results are promising:

  • Rhinoplasty: A small 2019 study with 90 participants found that the mean satisfaction score on the Rhinoplasty Outcome Evaluation was 79.5% after surgery.
  • Septoplasty: The ASPS states that septoplasty most often has stable results. Improvements that most people experience include better breathing, reduced snoring, and better sleep.
  • Turbinate surgery: A 2022 systematic review found a low complication rate and long-term positive outcomes after turbinate surgery to treat allergic rhinitis.
  • Nasal valve repair: The American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery states that nasal valve repair can improve quality of life and effectively relieve symptoms.
  • Septorhinoplasty: A 2020 cohort study with 256 participants found that the mean patient satisfaction score after septorhinoplasty was 87.4%.

The BAAPS highlights the possible risks of rhinoplasty nose surgery. These risks may also occur with other types of nose surgery. They can include:

  • bleeding or blood clots
  • infection
  • scarring
  • pain
  • bruising
  • swelling
  • reduced or increased sensation
  • extended healing time
  • extrusion — when internal stitching, bone, or cartilage protrudes through the skin
  • allergic reaction to anesthetic
  • breathing problems
  • new damage to the nose
  • changes to sense of smell
  • septum perforation
  • asymmetry
  • unsatisfactory result
  • stroke
  • heart attack
  • death

The cost of nose surgery for breathing depends on the type of procedure and a person’s insurance coverage.

The following table displays the amounts a person can expect to pay with Medicare coverage:

Ambulatory surgical centerHospital outpatient departments
Nasal valve repair$744$1,072
Turbinate reduction$257$594

These prices are based on Medicare’s 2022 payments and copayments. Costs may vary according to location, and additional physician fees may apply.

Anyone who regularly has trouble breathing through their nose may wish to speak with a doctor. A chronic feeling of fullness in the nasal area and regular sleep disruptions are other signs that it is time to ask for help.

An ear, nose, and throat specialist, called an otolaryngologist, can conduct an assessment, reach a diagnosis, and recommend treatment for nose breathing difficulties.

Unobstructed nose breathing is an important part of good health and sleep regulation.

People who experience ongoing trouble breathing through their nose may benefit from surgery to correct anatomical issues that block their nasal passages.

There are several types of nose surgery, and each comes with the risks that accompany any surgical procedure. However, recovery is often uncomplicated, and the results can offer the additional comfort and health benefits of unobstructed nose breathing.