The Nose — use it or lose it

It is often thought that if you breathe through your mouth it is because your nose blocked up first, but typically the nose blocks after you start breathing through your mouth and because it is uncomfortable breathing through a stuffy nose, after a while you stop trying.  Once mouth breathing has become an established habit, it takes a lot of effort to retrain yourself to breathe through your nose.

Can Breathing Training Unblock my Nose?

“Yes.  Noses are often ‘blocked’ as a result of irritation, dehydration, inflammation – all side-effects of chronic over-breathing.  When you learn to breathe correctly, airway irritation reduces.  In twenty years of breathing retraining, I have rarely seen a nose that won’t, at least partially, clear within the first five minutes of changing a poor breathing pattern – not even smashed-up footballers’ noses, of which I have tackled a few.”   

Tess Graham, Relief From Anxiety and Panic, 2017.  Tess is a Breathing Educator, Physiotherapist and Author from Australia who has taught breathing retraining courses to thousands of people and who also teaches other health professionals. 

Nose Clearing Exercise

Use this short breath hold to help unblock your nose whenever it is blocked or congested so you can breathe more comfortably.  Holding your breath helps to raise carbon dioxide levels in the nasal passages which soothes nasal membrane tissue and reduces inflammation. Gentle nodding helps to increase circulation to the sinuses.

  1. After breathing normally (do not make any exaggerated breathing manoeuvre) breathe in and out through your nose. 
  2. Close your nostrils gently with finger tips after exhaling.
  3. Hold your breath for as long as is comfortable. 
  4. Try nodding your head while holding the breath to increase blood flow to the sinuses.
  5. Then gradually resume very gentle breathing through your nose.

Note: In stubborn cases or when the blockage is due to a cold, the exercise may need to be repeated several times.

Nose Clearing Tips

  • Keep your mouth closed.
  • Don’t hold so long that you gasp air in through your mouth at the end.
  • If your nose is completely blocked breathe gently through pursed lips.
  • In stubborn cases when your nose is blocked, for example due to a cold, you may have to repeat the exercise a few times.

It is important to be able to control the breathing within 3 breathes after the hold.  Otherwise the body blows off the accumulated carbon dioxide and this may make the problem worse.  If this is not possible then next time reduce the length of the hold as necessary.

Nicky McLeod, Breathing Educator, The Breathing Clinic, Nelson


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