August 22, 2017
Man asleep wearing a nasal breathing strip

Nasal Strips: Snore No More?

by Berkeley Wellness  |  

If you snore like a buzz saw or have a bed partner who does, you may have wondered if over-the-counter nasal strips like Breathe Right might actually help. Possibly, if the cause of the snoring is nasal congestion (such as from a cold or allergies) or nasal obstruction (such as from a deviated septum). They may be worth a try, since they are simple to use, noninvasive, and relatively inexpensive; the only risk is skin irritation.

Also called external nasal dilators, they are sort of like stiff Band-Aids, consisting of adhesive tape with hard plastic splints. When you affix one across the bridge of your nose, it acts like a spring to pull your nostrils open slightly so they don’t collapse during inhalation, thus increasing airflow.

Besides Breathe Right, other brands and generic versions are also available. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, these products may reduce snoring related to nasal blockage, but there’s no evidence they help treat the explosive snoring of obstructive sleep apnea, which involves the soft tissues at the back of the mouth.

A review paper, published in the International Journal of General Medicine in 2014, notes a number of studies showing that nasal strips decrease airway resistance and increase nasal airflow during inhalation, while a few small studies have found improvements in snoring in people with compromised nasal breathing or nasal obstruction. The authors of an earlier study in the European Archives of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology that used Breathe Right concluded that the strips may be a good alternative to using nasal decongestants, which have side effects.

But not all the research has been positive—and not everyone benefits, perhaps because of anatomical differences. As noted in a small 2015 study in the Journal of Laryngology and Otology, for instance, the strips improved nasal airflow better in Caucasians than in Asians.

Try this to see if you are a good candidate, as suggested by the British Snoring & Sleep Apnea Association: Press one nostril closed and see if the other nostril collapses as you breathe in. If it does, see if propping that nostril open (say, with the end of a wooden matchstick or your finger) makes you breathe easier. If so, a nasal strip could help by similarly propping open your nostrils to increase airflow. Internal nasal dilators, also sold in drugstores and on the Internet, are another option. A study in the American Journal of Rhinology & Allergy in 2011 found them more effective than external ones.

What about claims that nasal strips im­­prove sports performance? Many athletes—including California Chrome, the horse that won the Kentucky Derby in 2014—have been seen wearing them. But it doesn’t make much sense that they would help, since you breathe mostly through your mouth during all but the mildest exercise. And aerobic performance is rarely limited by lack of air supply. The 2014 review paper mentioned above also noted that there is no good evidence that the strips are of benefit during exercise.

Bottom line: While nasal strips may help stifle some kinds of snoring in some people, they are a not a permanent fix. If you (or your bedmate) snore regularly, or if your snoring is irregular, very loud, or explosive, medical evaluation is recommended to identify and correct the underlying cause, whether that means treating allergies, for example, or looking into possible surgery if you have a significantly deviated septum. A more serious cause of snoring is obstructive sleep apnea, which can have long-term adverse health consequences if left un­­treated.