How Nasal Dilator Strips Improve Snoring and Sleep Apnea

man snoring in bed while the person next to him puts a pillow over their face

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If you are looking for ways to stop snoring, you may be interested in learning how over-the-counter nasal dilators like Breathe Right strips can help improve your breathing during sleep.

These nasal dilators work by opening the nostril or nasal passage to improve airflow through the nose, but are they right for you? Can they relieve sleep apnea? Learn more about these devices and whether they would be worth a try.

Basics of Nasal Dilators

There are two types of nasal dilators: those that open the nostrils or nasal passage from the outside and those that dilate the nostrils from the inside.

The external dilator often consists of a stiff strip that is applied to the outside surface of the nose with adhesive, much like a stiffened Band-Aid. One popular brand is Breathe Right nasal strips, though others certainly exist.

Nasal dilators work by pulling the nostrils and sides of the nose open, much like lifting the sides of a peaked tent to make more space on the inside. This can help to ease breathing through your nose and may reduce snoring.

This most likely occurs due to increased airflow through the nose. Ideally, a river of air would enter through a fully open nose, pass through the throat and past the base of the tongue, and enter the lungs.

When obstruction occurs in the nose — due to narrowness from anatomy, a deviated septum, or congestion from a cold or allergies—a trickle or stream of air enters instead. This airflow becomes turbulent, much like a shallow and rock-filled stream.

As a result, the tissues lining the throat (especially the soft palate and uvula) may vibrate and cause the sound of snoring. With the use of a nasal dilator, the amount of air that enters the nose can be increased and the turbulent air movement stills.

Do Breathe Right Strips Reduce Snoring?

A study of 30 snorers found that an external nasal dilator, similar to Breathe Right strips, is effective in reducing the intensity of snoring as measured by a sleep study, or polysomnogram, in 73 percent of people. These dilators worked best if the snorers did not have another condition affecting their breathing during sleep, such as obstructive sleep apnea.

Other studies have found more mixed results in how effective these treatments can be. Though the risk for sleep apnea may decrease, it is unlikely that the disorder would resolve with this treatment.

Side Effects Associated With the Use of Breathe Right Strips

Aside from a possible skin reaction from the adhesive used with the external nasal dilators, or injury to the skin with the removal, there are likely few risks for adverse side effects with either of these types of products.

Though nasal dilator strips may improve snoring, they do not treat sleep apnea. Using the strips to reduce symptoms may give a false sense of confidence in the effectiveness of the therapy.

What Other Devices Exist to Open the Nose?

Another alternative is an internal nasal dilator, which is a plug inserted into the nostrils that remains in place during sleep.

A study of 15 snorers with polysomnography found minimal improvement in the frequency and duration of snoring. This relatively small study included many obese patients, and this may have impacted the device’s effectiveness.

There is also a prescription option called Provent and a similar non-prescription variation called Theravent. After drawing air into the nose, these reduce the amount of air exhaled. They try to create an increased volume of air in the airway to help stabilize it, thus reducing the vibration of snoring.

What to Do If Snoring Persists

In general, nasal dilators are safe, easy to use, and they may be a reasonable option in those who snore despite attempting other conservative treatments. They may be worth a trial to see if they are helpful. However, nasal dilators may not be right for you, especially if you have sleep apnea.

What are some other ideas? Consider these options:

  • Nasal saline spray
  • Saline rinses (via Neti pot or alternative)
  • Allergy treatment (nasal steroid sprays like Flonase, Nasacort, Rhinocort, etc. or oral allergy pills such as Allegra, Zyrtec, Claritin, Singulair, etc.)
  • Positional therapy (sleeping on the side)
  • Raising the head of the bed
  • Myofunctional therapy
  • Surgery performed by an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist 

If you have persistent snoring, witnessed pauses in breathing, gasping or choking, or other symptoms or signs of sleep apnea, talk to your doctor about further evaluation.

It may be necessary to undergo a sleep study to identify the condition. Treatment may include the use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, an oral appliance from a dentist, or even surgery on the nose or throat. All of these may completely eliminate snoring.

A Word From Verywell

If you have persistent snoring, you should seek additional medical evaluation. For more information, speak with your doctor who may refer you to a board-certified sleep medicine physician for testing and definitive treatment.

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Article Sources

  • Hoffstein, V et al. "Effect of Nasal Dilation on Snoring and Apneas During Different Stages of Sleep." Sleep 1993; 16:360.
  • Meoli, AL et al. "Nonprescription Treatments of Snoring or Obstructive Sleep Apnea: An Evaluation of Products with Limited Scientific Evidence." Sleep 2003; 26:619.
  • Todorova, A et al. "Effect of the External Nasal Dilator Breathe Right on Snoring." Eur J Med Res 1998; 3:367.