How Do Nasal Strips Work?

These products open up the nostrils to reduce snoring

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Nasal strips are a type of nasal dilator, a device used to open the nostrils or nasal passages to improve airflow through the nose.

Applied to the outside of the nose, nasal strips work by pulling the nostrils and sides of the nose open. This can help ease breathing through your nose and may reduce snoring.

Here's what to know about how nasal strips work, what other options there are for improving nighttime breathing, and whether or not they are right for you.

Couple in bed and the man is snoring
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What Nasal Strips Do

Ideally, a river of air would enter through a fully open nose, flow through the throat and past the base of the tongue, and enter the lungs. This does not occur as it should when there is a nasal obstruction.

Airflow through the nose may become significantly reduced due to:

  • Narrowness from anatomy
  • A deviated septum
  • Congestion from a cold or allergies

Nasal strips work to reopen this passageway so that air can flow as it should. The stiffness of these adhesive strips pulls the nostrils open from the outside, much like lifting the sides of a peaked tent to make more space in the interior.

Breathe Right is one popular brand of nasal strips, though others certainly exist.

Do Breathe Right Strips Reduce Snoring?

A 2016 review in JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery concluded that nasal strips like Breathe Right can be effective in reducing nasal obstruction and snoring in adults.

These 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 nasal strips can be. A comprehensive literature review found only a small improvement in snoring when Breathe Right strips were used.

Side Effects of Breathe Right Strips

Aside from a possible skin reaction from the adhesive used to make nasal strips, or injury to the skin with the removal, there are likely few risks to using these products. This alone may make them worth a try.

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

Nasal Strips vs. Internal Nasal Dilators

Internal nasal dilators are plugs that are inserted into the nostrils that remains in place during sleep. A literature review found that internal dilators yielded a slightly greater improvement in snoring as compared with the external nasal strips.

There is also a prescription internal dilation option called Provent and a similar non-prescription variation called Theravent.

After drawing air into the nose, these devices 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.

If Snoring Persists After Trying Nasal Strips

In general, nasal dilators are easy to use and they may be a reasonable option in those who snore despite attempting other conservative treatments.

However, nasal dilators are not right for everyone—especially those with sleep apnea.

Alternative treatment options may include:

  • Nasal saline spray
  • Positional therapy (sleeping on the side)
  • Raising the head of the bed
  • Saline rinses (via Neti pot or alternative)
  • Oral appliances
  • Surgery performed by an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist 
  • Myofunctional therapy

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

It may be necessary to undergo a sleep study to identify the cause of your snoring. 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.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Camacho M, Malu OO, Kram YA, et al. Nasal dilators (Breathe Right Strips and NoZovent) for snoring and OSA: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Pulm Med. 2016;2016:4841310. doi:10.1155/2016/4841310

  2. Kiyohara N, Badger C, Tjoa T, Wong B. A comparison of over-the-counter mechanical nasal dilators: A systematic review. JAMA Facial Plast Surg. 2016 Sep 1;18(5):385-9. doi:10.1001/jamafacial.2016.0291

  3. Ward J, Ciesla R, Becker W, Shanga GM. Randomized trials of nasal patency and dermal tolerability with external nasal dilators in healthy volunteers. Allergy Rhinol (Providence). 2018;9 doi:10.1177/2152656718796740

  4. American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. ENT Health. Treatment options for adults with snoring.

  5. Ramar K, Dort LC, Katz SG, et al. Clinical practice guideline for the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea and snoring with oral appliance therapy: an update for 2015J Clin Sleep Med. 2015 Jul 15;11(7):773–827. doi:10.5664/jcsm.4858

By Brandon Peters, MD
Brandon Peters, MD, is a board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist.