Written by Shawn Candela for Avima.com

Most septoplasty operations are done on an outpatient basis with general anesthesia, although local anesthesia is recommended in some cases. Barring complications, the entire procedure takes less than two hours. For that reason, recovery typically occurs outside of the doctor’s office. While some recovery is almost immediate, other aspects of recovery can take considerably longer.

Initial recovery

Septoplasty patients will go home with either cotton packing or splints in their nose to keep bleeding to a minimum and to maintain the integrity of the tissue changes. The cotton will need to stay in place for up to 36 hours, while stilts will remain for as long as two weeks.

Pain and swelling are common immediately after septoplasty surgery, and although pain medication is usually prescribed, patients will be required to refrain from taking any drugs that thin blood, including aspirin and ibuprofen, since bleeding at the site is the most common complication after the operation.

Patients will be urged to rest as much as possible after a septoplasty and to avoid anything that causes physical strain. According to the Mayo Clinic, patients will be told to refrain from any activity or exercise that increases blood pressure and could lead to more bleeding at the surgical site. They might also be told to make sure their heads are elevated when they’re sleeping — such as using two pillows instead of one — avoid blowing or rubbing their nose, and wear clothing that is not put on over the head, since this risks contacting the surgery site.

Because swelling is common, patients might be allowed to use occasional ice packs around their nose and eyes, but the area directly around the operation site must remain dry at all times to facilitate recovery. For the same reason, bathing is usually not allowed for the first 24 hours after surgery. Cleaning of the site can be done with cotton swabs and hydrogen peroxide, if approved by the doctor.
Although rest is a necessity, patients typically are allowed to go outside for brief periods as long as they do not expose their face to direct sunlight for longer than a few minutes.

Because the effects of anesthesia can last for a brief time after the operation, patients might also feel groggy when released. Alcohol should be avoided to allow a quicker recovery from the anesthesia.

Long-term recovery

Generally speaking, healing from a septoplasty begins quickly, with normal breathing likely after a few weeks of feeling like one’s nose is clogged.

Patients should expect to see swelling in their face for at least a few days after the surgery, and bleeding at the site can occur for several days afterward as well. Other common recovery symptoms that can linger after initial release include a feeling of numbness in the cheeks, upper lip and nose, with the latter potentially lasting for several months. This is normal and not a cause for concern.
While most post-operative recovery occurs in the first few months, the body’s rebuilding of nasal cartilage and tissue can take much longer — even up to a year in some cases.

Another part of the recovery process is the regular review of the surgery by the doctor, who also might need to remove stitches if they are not dissolvable on their own.

Considerations

While fairly rare, some septoplasty patients will require a second procedure, especially if breathing problems continue after the initial operation. It is also possible for nasal tissue or cartilage to change or move during the recovery process, which can lead to the need for a second surgery.

During recovery, patients need to contact their doctor if any unusual or potentially dangerous complications develop. These can include headaches, fevers or chills, pain that becomes unmanageable even with medication, disorientation, nosebleeds that cannot be controlled, and stiffness in the neck.