You have to breathe in order to live. The inability to breathe easily can cause ongoing discomfort and frustration, and it can rob you of sleep. While everyone experiences nasal congestion from time to time, for some people it is a chronic problem. One common cause of chronic airway obstruction is nasal valve collapse, yet doctors sometimes overlook it when diagnosing sinus issues.
The nasal valve controls air intake
It is located in the lower to middle part of the nose and forms the narrowest part of the airway. Nasal valve collapse is a condition that occurs when this area becomes too narrow or is weakened. The airway is restricted, and that’s what makes breathing so difficult. There are many things that can cause nasal valve collapse, including:
- A congenital cartilage defect that results in abnormally narrow nostrils or an unusually wide columella (the cartilage that separates the nostrils at their base).
- A broken nose or other trauma that results in excess scar tissue, inflammation, or inflated tissue
- A deviated septum, whether natural or caused by injury
- Enlarged turbinates (bony structures within the nose that warm, humidify and help filter incoming air)
- A previous cosmetic rhinoplasty procedure (which alters the structure of the nose)
- Aging, which naturally weakens the nose structure
Signs you might have nasal valve collapse
It can be difficult to diagnose this condition, because the symptoms are often similar to those associated with deviated septum or other conditions. However, common symptoms include:
- Significant difficulty breathing in or out through one or both nostrils
- Chronic nasal congestion
- Nose bleeds
Sometimes there are visible signs of nasal valve collapse. The nose may appear “pinched” on one or both sides, or one or both sidewalls may collapse inward when you take a deep breath through your nose.
If your breathing improves when you pull up the cheek on the side where it is difficult to breathe, that can indicate nasal valve collapse. Pulling the cheek opens the airway on that side. This is the principal behind nasal breathing strips, which can help alleviate symptoms temporarily.
Nasal valve collapse can be corrected
A plastic surgeon who has had extensive additional training in rhinoplasty can determine whether nasal valve collapse is causing your breathing problems. Jeffrey Raval, MD, FACS is board certified by the American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery as well as the American Board of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery, and he specializes in rhinoplasty.
While many people think of rhinoplasty as a cosmetic surgical procedure to change the outward appearance of the nose, this type of surgery can also correct breathing problems. Dr. Raval often combines cosmetic and reconstructive techniques to help patients improve both the appearance and the internal function of their nose.