What Is a Collapsed Nostril?

Your nostrils are more than just two holes you breathe through. If you could peek inside them, you'd see your nose's air passages.

The narrow, lower part of those tubes is your nasal valve. Its job is to control the air that flows in and out. If your nasal valve gets weak, collapses, or narrows, it can be hard for you to breathe.

Symptoms

A collapsed nostril makes you feel like your nose is blocked or you're stuffed up all the time. Your nose may also bleed or crust over.

It may be especially hard for you to breathe when you lie down. While you're asleep, you may start to breathe through your mouth because your nose feels blocked. You might snore or have trouble getting a good night's sleep.

It also can change the way your nose or face looks. The tip of your nose may drop down because the muscle and firm tissue (cartilage) in your nose is weak and your nostril can't stay open. Your nostrils may look pinched or too narrow.

Why Do Nostrils Collapse?

Your nasal valve could collapse for several reasons:

  • An injury to your nose
  • Swelling or scar tissue from nose surgery of any kind
  • A nose that projects too far or nostrils that are too narrow
  • Using drugs you inhale through your nose, like cocaine, for a long time

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Diagnosis

To be sure your symptoms are caused by a nasal valve collapse, you should see an ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT) called an otolaryngologist. That's a specialist who treats head and neck problems. She'll examine your nose and ask about your symptoms.

A deviated septum is similar to nasal valve collapse, so your doctor will want to make sure that's not your issue. Your septum is the tough piece of cartilage between your nostrils and air passages. If it's injured or tilts too far to one side, that also can make it hard for you to breathe.

One way to check is with a Cottle test. Your doctor will pull your cheek away from your nose for a few seconds to open your nasal valve. Then she'll see if that helps you breathe more easily. If it does, you probably have a collapsed nostril.

Your doctor also may need to look deep inside your nose with an endoscope, a long, thin tube with a light and a camera on it. Pictures made with the endoscope will show if your nasal valve is collapsed or damaged.

She'll give you a nasal decongestant spray to widen the blocked passage first. She also may give you a mild anesthetic to numb your nose before the tube goes in.

Treatment

If your damage is minor and just makes you snore at night, you might try a nasal valve dilator. This is a little strip you put on the sides of your nose at night before you go to bed. It pulls and opens your nasal passages. You should breathe more easily and snore less.

These strips don't work for everyone. Most people with nasal valve collapse need plastic surgery to fix it. While this can help your nose's appearance, it's mainly done to reopen your nasal passages so you can breathe again. It's also called nasal valve rhinoplasty or nasal valve repair.

You'll have this surgery in the hospital. You'll get medication to numb your nose or possibly to make you sleep.

During the operation, your doctor will spread your nostril open with a special tool. Then he'll return your nasal valve to its normal shape and reopen any part of your nasal passage that was too narrow or blocked. To do this, he may need to trim and smooth any cartilage inside your nose that sticks out too far.

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Another way to keep your collapsed nostril clear is to put in a graft, which is tissue from another area of your nose, or else a metal implant during surgery. Your doctor will stitch it in place inside your nasal valve. Implants sometimes show on the outside of your nose. So talk with your doctor about how this will look if he recommends this treatment.

After surgery, your doctor will stitch the cuts he made inside your nose and pack it with gauze or a small cast to protect it. He'll give you instructions for how to care for it while it heals.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on January 25, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Nemours Foundation, KidsHealth.org: "Your Nose."

Brigham and Women's Hospital.

GMS Current Topics in Otorhinolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery, March 2008.

Medscape: "Internal Valve Stenosis Rhinoplasty."

European Archives of Otorhinolaryngology, Feb. 2011.

Otorhinolaryngologica Italica, June 2013.

Osbourne Head and Neck Institute: "What Effect Does Cocaine Have on the Nose?"

American Rhinologic Society.

Thomas Jefferson University Hospital: "Nasal Valve Repair."

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