Hello, again! We hope you are well—especially breathing well—as we present our very first Weiss ENTuesday!
Today we are addressing a frequently asked question: Why can’t I breathe through my nose?
Thinking about breathing, it makes sense to start our discussion with a review of the inner anatomy of our nose. Nasal symptoms (stuffiness, congestion, decreased airflow) are usually due to problems with this anatomy.
Air passes through our nostrils into our right and left nasal cavities, which are 4 to 5 inches in length. The nasal cavities are divided by the nasal septum which spans the entire length of each side.
On the side of each nasal cavity are 3 hot dog look-a-like structures; the superior, middle, and inferior turbinates (also called concha). The inferior turbinate sits on the floor of the side of each nasal passage. The very front of the inferior turbinate is about 0.5 to 1 inch behind the nostril.
The lining of the inferior turbinate is the only structure of our nose that changes throughout the day. In a normal nose, our natural nasal cycle results in one turbinate swelling and the other shrinking, alternating every 2 to 5 hours. Also, when we lay on our side, fluid collects in the lining of the lower inferior turbinate, causing it to swell and that side to feel “stuffy”, while the opposite inferior turbinate shrinks causing the higher side to be more open.
In adults, trouble breathing through the nose is usually due to a problem with the nasal septum and/or the inferior turbinates. A deviated (crooked) septum is a fixed deformity that medicines won’t improve. When medicines do improve stuffiness, it’s a sign that the inferior turbinates were swollen, often due to allergy.
Certainly, there are other causes of nasal obstruction. Don’t worry, we’ll discuss those in the near future.
We hope you enjoyed our first Weiss ENTuesday! Please let us know if you have any questions. See you next week for another installment.
Till then, be kind, stay well, and remain healthy.
Now U NOSE it!
Your Neighborhood Ear, Nose, and Throat Pals at WEISS ENT