Ask Dr. Park: How To Clear Your Stuffy Nose (5/10/11)

April 27, 2011

In this Ask Dr. Park teleseminar, I answer your questions about how to clear your stuffy nose. Here are some topics I’ll cover:

– How to clear your stuffy nose

– The real reason why allergies can ruin your sleep

– The truth about septoplasty and what you must know before any nasal surgery

– Turbinates: The forgotten nasal structure

– Why your sinus pain and headache may not be an infection

– Do Breathe Right Strips work?

– Nasal saline irrigation: Helpful or hurtful?

– Nasal problems with CPAP


Click here to order the MP3 recording ($17)

An Insider’s Guide to Septoplasty

March 25, 2010

The septoplasty operation is one of the most misunderstood surgical procedures that lay people, and even many physicians have. Some people even equate septoplasty with having a nose job, which is not true. Although, some people use having a crooked septum as 

an excuse to undergo a rhinoplasty, septoplasty, done correctly, can help patients breathe better, and more importantly, sleep better.

Understanding the Anatomy

In order to fully appreciate if septoplasty is the right procedure for you, you must understand the anatomy of how it’s done.

The nasal septum is the midline cartilaginous structure that divides the two halves of your nasal cavity. The part in the back of the septum is made of bone. Whenever the septum is crooked to a significant degree, your nose can be stuffy, and a septoplasty can be offered if medical therapy doesn't work.

However, having a crooked septum doesn't mean that you'll have a stuffy nose, or that you'll need a septoplasty. No one has a perfectly straight septum. There are other parts of your nasal anatomy that contributes to your ability to breathe, which includes your nasal turbinates and your nostrils. The turbinates are wing-like structures that jut in from the side-walls of your nose that look like wings. They normally warm, filter, smooth and humidify the air that you breathe. Inside this structure is the bone and the outside is a mucous membrane lining. The middle part is made of very vascular tissues that can swell tremendously when filled with blood. This is regulated by your involuntary nervous system. This nervous system normally swells and shrinks the turbinates, alternating from side to side, every few hours (called the nasal cycle).

Do You Have Flimsy Nostrils?

The other structure that is often overlooked is your nostrils. For most people, breathing in causes a mild vacuum effect that causes a mild collapse and a constriction of the nostrils. But in some people with either flimsy or weakened nostrils (from a prior rhinoplasty), they collapse very easily, even with a slight bit of inspiration. If you are one of these people, you may benefit from nasal dilator strips (Breathe-rite is one brand). Sometimes these strips are not strong enough, or it can irritate the skin. Another option is to use internal nasal dilators which work much better. Some of the more common brands are Breathewitheez, Nasal Cones, and Nozovent.

What's Involved with Septal Surgery? 

The septoplasty procedure can be done in conjunction with a turbinate procedure. There are many ways to perform a septoplasty, but the most important point is that it should be done well. The septum is covered on both sides by a mucous membrane. After an incision is made inside the nose on the mucous membrane, this layer is peeled away from the septal cartilage. The other side is also entered, which creates two tunnels on either side of the septal cartilage. The crooked part of the septal cartilage is next removed. Some surgeons either soften the cartilage or flatten it out and place it back, and others leave it out completely. In many cases, a small portion of bony spur that juts out at the base of the septal cartilage is also removed. The last part of the operation is where different surgeons use different techniques. Traditionally, thin plastic sheets with or without soft sponge-like packs are placed against the septum on both sides to keep the mucous membrane together for proper healing. If a large clot of blood forms between the two mucous membrane layers, the remaining cartilage may lose it's blood supply and literally melt away. 

Because the entire procedure in done inside the nose (or endoscopically), there is no swelling, bruising or changes to the outside of the nose or face (unless a rhinoplasty is done simultaneously).

What to Expect After Surgery

Nasal packing, if placed, are removed anywhere from 1-3 days after the procedure. Many patients report that this is one of the most uncomfortable parts of undergoing this procedure. Some surgeons, like myself, don't use any packs or splints using the following method: compressing the two mucous membrane layers by sewing the two layers together using an absorbable suture, like a quilting stitch. This way, nothing needs to be removed, and you're breathing much better right after the surgery. It's expected with this procedure that your nose will get clogged up after a day or two with accumulation of blood, mucous and debris.

This operation is usually performed as an outpatient procedure, so you'll go home a few hours after surgery. It's usually performed under general anesthesia, but can also de done under local anesthesia with sedation for certain situations. Most people can go back to work after a day or two. Heavy straining or lifting should be restricted for about one week. In my practice, I see the patients about 2 days after the surgery, when the nose is cleaned of all the accumulated debris. Some people need a second cleaning 1-2 weeks later.

Typically, it may take a few weeks to months to feel the full benefits of this operation. During the first few weeks, crusts will build up and fall out as wounds heal. This is also the time when the swelling from the surgery goes away. Afterwards, scarring and tightening of the soft tissues can take weeks to months. You may have your ups and downs in the first few weeks, but you should see consistent improvement by 3-4 weeks. 

Most people don't use any pain medications, but one is prescribed just in case. You'll probably be more bothered by the sore throat from having a breathing tube placed during intubation.

What Are The Risks?

Complications are rare, but with any surgical procedure, there is a small chance of infection or bleeding. There is also a small risk any time someone undergoes general anesthesia, which includes, allergic or medication reactions or airway problems. In terms of overall risk, it's riskier when you cross the street. Other very rare complications such as smell loss or a hole in your septum have been reported. 

A septoplasty, if done properly, is one of the most gratifying procedures for both the patient and the surgeon. Success rates are very high. However, there are a few percent of patients where nasal congestion still persists, or it comes back after a few weeks to months. In this situation, there are two main possible reasons: there is persistent turbinate swelling due to inflammation, or you have flimsy nostrils. There are treatment options for both theses conditions.

The Deviated Septum Myth

August 28, 2009

Dr. Park debunks one of the most common myths about the nose.

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:




The material on this website is for educational and informational purposes only and is not and should not be relied upon or construed as medical, surgical, psychological, or nutritional advice. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your medical regimen, exercise or diet program. Some links may go to products on, for which Jodev Press is an associate member.

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