7 Tips to Breathe Better Through Your Nose

December 23, 2008

Most people take breathing through their nose for granted. But for many chronic mouth breathers, breathing through the nose is a struggle, if not impossible. Not only is their quality of life diminished, but they’ll also have a variety of other health-related conditions such as dry mouth, snoring, fatigue, and poor sleep. In my last article I addressed 5 reasons why it’s important to breathe through your nose. In this article, I’ll talk about 7 ways that you can breathe better through your nose naturally. 

Before I discuss the various ways to breathe better, a short anatomy course in in order. The nasal septum is a thin piece of cartilage and bone that splits your nasal cavity right down the middle. No one has a perfectly straight septum; everyone’s septum is slightly curved. Sometimes, nasal trauma can shift or move the septum away from its’ midline position. The nasal turbinates are wing-like structures that line the sidewalls of your nose. It’s covered with a mucous membrane, and normally it helps to smooth, warm and humidify air. The turbinates and sinuses also produce about 2 pints of mucous every day. The turbinates swell and shrink, alternating from side to side every few hours. This is called the nasal cycle. 

The front side walls make up your nostrils, which are soft cartilages covered on the inside and outside with skin. The back of your nose is one big cavity (called the nasopharynx), and the passageway turns down 90 degrees into the back of your throat. The nasopharynx is also where your ears connect via the Eustachian tubes. 

If any part of the anatomy that I described becomes obstructed partially or completely, you’ll feel stuffy in your nose. Usually it’s not one thing, but usually due to a combination of different reasons. For example, if you have a mildly deviated septum, suffering from mild allergies will swell up your nasal turbinates, narrowing you nasal passageways. This may not be enough to clog up your nose, but if you have flimsy nostrils or had rhinoplasty in the past that weakened the nostrils, then breathing in with a stuffy nose may trigger your nostrils to collapse. 

Starting from the tip of your nose, the first thing you must do is to find out if you have flimsy nostrils. If you have a very narrow nose, or if your nostril openings are very narrow and slit-like, then you may be prone to having flimsy nostrils. Try this experiment: Take both index fingers and press them just besides your nostrils on your cheek. While firmly pressing on your cheeks, lift the cheek skin upwards and sideways, pointing towards the outer corners of your eyes. Take a deep breath in. Can you breathe much better through your nose? Let go and try it again. If this maneuver works for you, you may benefit from using nasal dilator strips at night (one brand is called Breathe-Rite). Sometimes, the adhesives on these devices are not strong enough, or end up irritating the skin. Another way of treating this condition are various internal dilators (such as Nozovent, Breathewitheez, Nasal cones) that you can find over the counter or over the internet. 

Second, try using nasal saline sprays. You can use the simple spray bottles that put out a fine mist, to more sophisticated methods such as aerosol cans or even using a Water-pik machine (there’s a nasal adaptor that you can buy for this). Another popular variation is something called a Nedi-pot, which uses gravity to pour salt water into your nose and sinuses. You can either use prepared saline packages, or mix your own recipe (one cup of lukewarm water and 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt or Kosher salt with a pinch of baking soda). Whatever method you use, you’ll have to do it frequently to get maximum results. Besides cleansing out mucous, pollutants and allergens, saline also acts as a mild decongestant. 

Third, try not to eat anything within three hours of going to bed. If you still have food or juices lingering in your stomach when you go to bed, it can leak up passively into your throat and not only prevent a good night’s sleep, but these same juices can also leak up into your nose, causing swelling and inflammation. In addition, many people will also stop breathing once in a while, which creates a vacuum effect in the throat which actively suctions up your stomach juices into your throat and nose. 

Fourth, try to avoid drinking alcohol close to bedtime. Not only does alcohol irritate the stomach, it also relaxes your throat muscles as you sleep, which aggravates the process described in the previous paragraph. 

Fifth, if you have any known allergies, especially if it’s something in your bedroom, try to either remove it or or lessen your exposure to it. For example, many people are allergic to dust or molds, and if you have carpeting, or an area rug, it can harbor these allergens. Frequently washing your bed sheets in very hot water also helps. Investing in a quality HEPA filter should help even more. If you have any pets, consider keeping them out of your bedroom. If conservative measure to control allergies is not good enough, consider seeing an allergist for a more formal evaluation. 

Sixth, get regular exercise, especially outdoors. Not only are you exercising your heart and your muscles, you’re also exercising the nervous system in your nose. Vigorous physical activity activates your sympathetic nervous system, which constricts the blood vessels that supply your nasal turbinates. This allows you to breathe better through your nose, with all the added benefits described in my previous article. 

Lastly, slow down and relax. Modern society has removed all the natural built-in breaks throughout the day. Along with all the information overload and constant stimulation, going nonstop all day only adds to the increased stress levels that everyone experiences. In between major activities, take a minute or so to stop what you’re doing and stretch, get up and move around, and do some deep-breathing exercises. Stress can tense up the muscles, causing you to breathe shallower, which causes physiologic changes that can ultimately aggravate nasal congestion. 

These simple 7 steps won’t help everyone, but If you can go down the list and apply all the steps, many if not most of you should feel some improvement in your ability to breathe through your nose. If you’ve tried all these steps and still can’t breathe through your nose, then seek medial help. An otolaryngologist (an ear, nose and throat doctor) is the best doctor to take care of this condition. 

If you are a chronic mouth breather, in addition to what I described above, your jaw is probably more narrow than normal, with some degree of dental crowding. Chronic mouth breathers also tend not to sleep well at night due to various degrees of breathing difficulty.

I discuss how you can breathe better in my free report: How to Unstuff Your Stuffy Nose. Please click the Like button below to access your free E-book:

 

 

 

15 Responses to “7 Tips to Breathe Better Through Your Nose”

  1. Solutions for Your Biggest Holiday Health Risk | Dr. Steven Y. Park - Information on How You Can Breathe Better, Sleep Better, and Live Better on December 23rd, 2008 11:28 am

    [...] Reduce nasal congestion: Any amount of nasal congestion can aggravate airway collapse, thereby causing more breathing cessations, frequent arousals, or overall inefficient sleep. Use lots of nasal saline irrigate your nose to keep your airway clear. Saline acts as a mild nasal decongestant. Allergies can aggravate nasal congestion, so you should take steps to reduce your exposure. Some people with flimsy nostrils that cave in when they breathe in may benefit from nasal dilator strips (Breathe-rite strips). For a detailed explanation on how to breathe better through your nose, read 7 Tips to Breathe Better Through Your Nose). [...]

  2. Gloria on August 5th, 2012 12:54 am

    I have all the symptoms described above except acid reflux. I do have sleep apnea I alternate using a neti-pot or the waterpik with the nasal attachment. I use both with the salt/soda mix I buy at the drugstore because it’s faster and easier.

    My doctor suggested I sleep on my left side in lieu of wearing the mask for apnea. I sometimes wake up sleeping on my back and I worry about that. Friends have also warned that it is difficult to sleep with the apnea mask. What do you think?

    Thank you

  3. Steven Park on August 5th, 2012 8:00 am

    Gloria,

    If your nose is stuffy, it’s less likely you’ll tolerate or benefit from CPAP. There are sleep positioners that help to keep you off your back, such as the Rematee Antisnoreshirt. Good luck.

  4. Freddie on August 23rd, 2012 9:55 pm

    Hi there, i seem to have trouble breathing with my mouth closed, I can breath trough my nose but i just can’t seem to keep my mouth shut, and by that i don’t mean I can’t stop talking I mean i really cant keep my mouth shut when i do I have to have complete concentration I cant just do it casually and not notice and my tongue and the inside of my mouth and my lips feel very irritated I just cant seem to do it when i open my mouth back up everything feels good again, It’s like my mouth was made to stay open. Its just impossible to breath from my nose if tried everything you mentioned.

  5. Steven Park on August 23rd, 2012 10:20 pm

    Freddie,

    It sounds like you may need to see your doctor or an ENT physician to address your nasal congestion. Good luck.

  6. Tatiana on September 1st, 2012 1:57 am

    I do have troubles with breathing in through my nose. I have 2 nasal sprays and use the neti pot but I still struggle with congestion and dryness in the nose. I have asthma so it seems that not breathing through my nose properly greatly affects my breathing.

  7. June on February 7th, 2013 6:31 pm

    I tape my mouth shut at night, under my full face mask for SA. This way I can avoid mouth breathing while asleep. Sounds like a lot of trouble, but it really helps with my SA symptoms in general. I have less swelling in not only in my nose, but my tongue and throat as well.

  8. Erika Bartolozzi on April 18th, 2013 3:47 pm

    I am a 67 yr young woman. I recently had trouble with nose bleeds, never before. My ENT cautherized my nose 3 times and it’s healing well. I have a lot of problems breathing out of that side of my nose. Recently, had it checked, he said I have non-elergic rhinits. He said all in the back of my nose is clear, my problem is the front of my nose. I use the netty pot, and I still can’t breath out of my right side.. I notice sometimes quick movements it opens and then when I sit still it closes again..

  9. Dan on April 24th, 2013 8:34 am

    Hi, thanks for the tips, although they have helped to get a good nights sleep more often, I am not cured. I am just wondering if I can continue a healthy life with trusting my mouth to breath. Thank you by the way this has helped and keep it up!

  10. Henry P. on April 29th, 2013 2:46 am

    Very informative information. I have history, and conditions which I have not addressed concerning breathing and a deviated septum. I’m considering having something done.

  11. ernest rider on May 3rd, 2013 11:06 am

    A patent nasal-pharyngal airway is essential to allow proper nasalized breathing.
    Generally there are multiple factors to consider: 1. the nasal valve. 2. the nasal turbinates and nasal septum. 3. The adenoids, tonsils and tongue. 4. The width of the upper jaw. 5. Diet and the air you breathe. 6. Breathing exercises.
    Best to resolve these problems early in life so that nasalized breathing becomes a habit.

  12. Mona on May 8th, 2013 1:48 am

    I have never been able to breath through my nose. If you put your hand to feel the amount of air that comes out of my nose, it is usually none out of my left nostril and very little out of my right. I saw many doctors, i even went through surgery to check my sinuses but that was all clear.. Every doctor has so far told me that they can’t figure out why I can’t breath through my nostrils. I use a nasil spray ( not too often because they realy don’t work) and I use a nedi-pot which helps very little. What else can I do? I’m beginning to think that it might be something else that’s causing this.
    Thanks for your very valuable info.

  13. Sinus Sufferer on May 13th, 2013 10:34 pm

    I had my adenoids and turbinates removed. It helped for about a year. Now the ramifications are worse than the original condition. Antibiotics and nasal sprays are quick fix band-aids. Saline mix and neti pot and “sinugator” help the most. Zyrtec seems to be better than Claritin and Allegra for most people. After surgery I have “thin nostrils” so the breathe-right strip helps there, but not an infection. For an infection without paying the ENT or GP for a band-aid that quickly falls off, I do this:

    Apple Cider Vinegar
    Green Tea with honey, lemon, cayenne
    Sunshine
    Bicylcle kicks in a jazuzzi up to your neck to sweat out your sinuses
    Marijuana with 4 green tea tree oil drops in the water. exhale out nose
    V8 drink with garlic (vitamin c blasting)
    Yellow bell peppers (more vitamin c blasting)

  14. Rob on September 1st, 2013 5:58 pm

    Good tips. Looking for things to help with nostril breathing.

  15. Kylie on September 4th, 2013 2:46 pm

    Whenever my child breathes through her nose she says her throat hurts what’s. the matter

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