We are supposed to breathe well through our nose. It’s the way we are built. The nose warms and moisturizes the air we breathe in, our mouth doesn’t. Our brain really wants us to breathe comfortably through our nose, typically making us feel uncomfortable when we can’t.
There are 2 primary reasons why we can’t breathe well through our nose
- Anatomic obstruction
- Swelling in the lining of the nose
- The septum is the part that divides the nose into 2 halves. If it is crooked (often called a deviated septum) it can block one or both sides of the nose. Surgery is the only way to correct a crooked septum.
- The turbinates are the tissue that hangs down from the side of the nose and takes up most of the rest of the room in the nose. The bigger the turbinates, the less room there is in the nose for air to move. Some people are just born with big turbinates. Things that cause the inside of the nose to swell (allergies or a cold), will cause the turbinates to swell as well.
Swelling in the lining of the nose
- Anything that irritates the inside of the nose will cause the lining to swell.
- The most common causes are allergies, colds, sinus infections, irritation from pollution or cigarette smoke, barometric pressure changes, temperature changes, altitude, dryness, hormonal changes and chemical exposure (some would call this “life”).
- When we lie down to go to sleep, the inside of the nose swells. This happens to all of us. It’s just that most of us have enough extra room in our nose that we don’t get stuffy when this happens. If you don’t have enough extra room, you will get congested while you are sleeping, making restful sleep harder to get. Nasal congestion also makes snoring and sleep apnea worse, leading to increased daytime fatigue.
- It’s been shown that athletes perform best when they are breathing through their nose. A stuffy nose decreases your ability to perform. Increasing your ability to breathe through your nose can improve performance.
- Medicines that decrease swelling, specific allergy treatment and surgery can all be effective ways to treat these issues.