Can’t Breathe Through Nose? Causes and Treatment Options

Published on: April 30, 2023
Woman having problems breathing through the nose.

Are you wondering, “Why can’t I breathe through my nose?” Nasal breathing is important to your health and the preferred way to bring air into your lungs. If you can’t breathe through nose, it is usually due to some type of blockage. Here are some of the possible causes and treatment options.

The nasal passages start at your nostrils, which are comprised of the nasal sidewalls and divided by the septum. Each side of the nose enters the nasal and sinus passages where air is warmed, filtered and moistened before it goes through the back of the throat to enter the lungs.

There are many conditions that can cause a blockage along the nasal pathway. When the nasal or sinus passages are inflamed, congested or physically blocked, it can cause discomfort and health concerns. If you can’t breathe through your nose, it is important to find the cause and treatment.

Causes of Nasal Blockages

There are many conditions that can cause temporary nasal blockages or congestion. Most of these conditions will dissipate on their own, but there are chronic conditions that can make it difficult or impossible to breathe through your nose. Here are some causes of nasal blockages.

Cold and Flu
Cold and flu illnesses inflame the nasal passages and throat, which can block the airways. Excess mucus also often accompanies cold and flu viral infections which can congest the nasal passages.
If you have allergies to pollen, dust, dander or other airborne substances, you likely will have nasal congestion. This occurs when the nasal membranes swell and produce more mucus to flush out the allergen, resulting in nasal blockages.
When the sinuses swell and become blocked, it is called sinusitis. This can be due to a cold, flu or allergies, usually only lasting several days. When sinusitis lasts for weeks or months, it is called chronic sinusitis and may need medical treatment to relieve the nasal blockage.
Nasal Polyps or Enlarged Turbinates
Nasal polyps and enlarged turbinates can block your nasal passages. Polyps are small growths in the nasal lining and turbinates are shelf-like structures in the nasal passages. If severe, these physical blockages may need to be removed to improve nasal breathing.
Deviated Septum
If your nose has sustained trauma, the septum may have been displaced or moved. This can block one or both nasal passages. This can cause snoring and contribute to sleep apnea when the nose is blocked, and you are forced to breathe through your mouth when sleeping.
Dry Air and Dehydration
If the air is too dry, it can cause your nose to produce excess, thick mucus. This can congest the nose and make it so you can’t breathe through your nose well. Dehydration can also contribute to a dry nose and excess mucus, which is common when you have the flu, a cold, or other illness.

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Is It Dangerous to Sleep with a Blocked Nose?

When your nose is congested and it is difficult or impossible to breathe through your nose, it can impact your sleep. Those with deviated septum, nasal polyps, enlarged turbinates or other blockages may breathe through their mouths when sleeping, which can cause snoring and other issues.

Is it dangerous to sleep with a blocked nose? No, not necessarily; but it can make it hard to sleep for you and others around you. Mouth breathing is not ideal for your health, and you should seek treatment if you have ongoing trouble breathing through your nose.

Treatments for Blocked Nasal Passages

If you can’t breathe through your nose, it can be very uncomfortable, and you may have difficulty sleeping. The treatment for blocked noses depends on what is causing the blockage. Some of the treatments that may be recommended to improve nasal breathing include:

  • Adding a humidifier to fix dry air in your home
  • Use a neti pot or nasal flushing device
  • Nasal decongestant medications for temporary nasal congestion
  • Surgical removal of nasal polyps
  • Treatment for enlarged turbinates
  • Deviated septum surgery
  • Medication management of allergies
  • Sinusitis treatment or surgery
  • Stay hydrated, especially when you have nasal congestion

Most nasal blockages can be relieved with non-invasive treatments. Controlling inflammation and mucus production are important during any type of rhinitis, whether it is allergic or non-allergic. In extreme cases of blockage, minimally invasive procedures or surgery may be needed for relief.

When to See a Doctor

If you are experiencing ongoing trouble breathing through your nose, you should visit a doctor. When it lasts for more than 10 days, you may have something more serious occurring than allergies or a cold. Your doctor can perform an exam and determine the best treatment to unblock your nose.
Otolaryngologist explaining patient cause of nasal blockage using a model.
Nasal blockage and congestion are common issues, but there are treatments available. When home remedies or OTC medications are unsuccessful for giving you relief, make an appointment with your primary care physician.

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