Why Does the Nose Get Stuffy One Nostril at a Time?

Why does the nose get stuffy one nostril at a time

Have you ever noticed that your nose get stuffy always one nostril at a time? Have you ever wondered why this happens? May be you’ve taken a guess at it – allergy related chronic cold. Is it true that you can always breathe through one nostril? Is it ever possible to have both nostrils stuffy at the same time? These are all pretty important questions, considering they all relate to a part of your body that allows you to breathe. And well, we think breathing is pretty important!

The Nasal Cycle

That strange asymmetrical stuffy feeling is actually a natural part of your body’s mechanism. The technical name for this congestion is called the nasal cycle. This is the alternation between congestion and decongestion between each nostril. Your nostril is full of turbinate’s – little bony projections that are covered by erectile tissue – the same tissue found in your reproductive organs.

When a turbinate fills up with blood, it becomes enflamed – again, just like your reproductive organs when excited – and your nostril becomes congested. At the same time that this is happening, the other turbinate looses blood, reducing in size and becoming decongested. This is all controlled by the autonomic nervous system, and the cycle lasts about two and a half hours. This cycle is constant! Whether you are sick (so, extra congested), or in great health, your nostrils will constantly alternate that stuffy feeling.

Benefits of the Nasal Cycle

The benefit for this strange stuffy rotation is that it helps you to breathe. The nasal cycle makes sure that there is always at least one side of the nose that is moist, allowing humidifying the air that you are breathing in. Some also argue that the rotation allows for a more sensitive sense of smell.

Other Effects of the Nasal Cycle

It’s possible that when you are feeling sick, the nasal cycle will actually make you even more congested. When one nostril is not in motion, it will get filled with yucky mucus and you may have the feeling of being extremely congested and of not being able to un-stuff your nose. It has also been hypothesized that the nasal cycle is what causes people to turn from side to side while they’re sleeping – facilitating their breathing as they turn. But this has not yet been scientifically proven.

In 2007, a paper was published on the effect of the nasal cycle on the nervous system. If you manipulate and force your nostril breathing, you could change the rhythm and pattern of your nervous system. This may be why deep breathing exercises are so effective at changing your body’s stress levels.

The human body is a pretty amazing mechanism! It somehow knows what is best for us, and this little example of the nasal cycle shows this. And, if you are going to leave with any piece of information, it’s that inside your nose, there is the same erectile tissue found in your reproductive organs. Very weird!

Why Is Only Half of My Nose Working?

Want to see a clear animated explanation of this topic – check out this video!