What It Means When You Can Only Breathe Through One Nostril

Breathe in. Notice that maybe one nostril is taking in more air? If not, place a mirror below your nostrils. You might notice more fog on one side than the other. According to Live Science, 75% of your breath is taken in by one nostril, while the other takes in 25%. Which nostril takes in more air? It depends, and it's constantly changing throughout the day.

Your nasal septum divides your nose into two nostrils, and your nasal cavity consists of several tissues that will periodically swell in one nostril, making it feel a little blocked. Your autonomic nervous system regulates this nasal cycle, where one nostril will somewhat congest while the other decongests. While allergies, infections, or pregnancy might cause your nose to feel congested, you could have structural issues in your nose that continually block the airflow in one nostril. You could also have tumors or polyps in your nose that block airflow (via Medical News Today). One of the most common reasons why you might only be able to breathe through one nostril is a deviated septum.

What is a deviated septum?

A deviated nasal septum means that your nostrils aren't quite equal because the septum isn't centered. Even though 80% of people have a deviated septum, many of them aren't aware because their symptoms aren't noticeable, according to theĀ Cleveland Clinic. More severe symptoms of a deviated septum include problems breathing through one or both nostrils, headaches, and noisy breathing. People with a deviated septum might also snore or have sleep apnea.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a deviated septum might occur if you had a traumatic injury to your nose. That's why wearing a mask or helmet during contact sports is essential. You might also have developed a deviated septum just before you were born. Even if you don't notice symptoms earlier in life, your nasal structure changes as you age. Over time, a deviated septum could cause dry mouth from excessive mouth breathing, excessive pressure from congestion, or problems sleeping.

How to tell if you have a deviated septum

Even though one nostril will dominate your breath every few hours, your awareness of these cycles could mean you have a deviated septum, according to the Mayo Clinic. Some people might prefer sleeping on a particular side because they know breathing is easier in the opposite nostril.

The Cleveland Clinic says you can look at your nostrils in a mirror. If one nostril looks larger than the other, it might mean you have a deviated septum. You could also block one nostril with your finger and see how well you breathe through the unobstructed one. If one nostril seems to be more blocked than the other, you could have a deviated septum. The best way to know for sure is to see your doctor, who can prescribe decongestants, antihistamines, or nasal sprays to help you breathe. More severe symptoms such as frequent sinus infections might warrant an outpatient surgical procedure to reshape your nasal septum.