How Do Breathe Right Nasal Strips Improve Snoring and Sleep Apnea?

Nasal Dilators Open the Nose to Make Breathing Easier

Loud snoring may improve with the use of a nasal dilator like Breath Right strips, but sleep apnea may persist
Loud snoring may improve with the use of a nasal dilator like Breath Right strips, but sleep apnea may persist. Tetra Images/Getty Images

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 Breathe Right Strips and 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.

What Other Options Exist to Open the Nose?

Another alternative is an internal nasal dilator, which is inserted into the nostrils and remains in place during sleep. Unfortunately, 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.

In addition, the treatment of allergies can be helpful. The use of saline sprays or rinses may relieve nasal congestion. Other nasal steroid sprays (Flonase, Nasacort, Rhinocort, etc.) or oral allergy pills (Allegra, Zyrtec, Claritin, Singulair, etc.) may be helpful. In some cases, surgery can open the nose, either by fixing a deviated nasal septum or by reducing the size of turbinates that can swell with allergies.

What Side Effects Are Associated with Nasal Dilators?

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 snoring may improve, sleep apnea may not, and this could give the user a false sense of confidence in the effectiveness of the therapy.

Considerations If Snoring Persists or Breathing Disruptions Occur

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. If you have persistent snoring, or other symptoms or signs associated with sleep apnea, you should seek additional medical evaluation. For more information, speak with your doctor.


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.

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