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Do Most Humans Really Breathe out of Only One Nostril at a Time? Here's the Skinny

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The human body is truly a magnificent and perplexing thing. A video about nostrils is currently making the rounds on TikTok claiming 85 percent of people only breathe out of one nostril at a time and that the nostrils take turns being the dominant one. 

What’s the science behind this phenomenon? Here’s how one doctor described the fascinating process.

Why does air only come out of one nostril?

Back in 2016, Rachel Roditi, M.D., section chief for the division of otolaryngology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Mass., confirmed to Men’s Health that the nostrils do, in fact, switch off the duty of sucking in and breathing out air, but did not mention whether or not this is the case for all humans.

The tag team is referred to as the nasal cycle and also explains why one nostril tends to get more congested than the other when an individual is sick. The inside structures found on both sides of the nose (called inferior turbinates) warm and humidify air before it reaches the lungs, but this conversion is not as straightforward as it sounds.

According to Dr. Roditi, our noses funnel resources to one side for efficiency, causing more blood to flow to whichever nostril is dominant. When you’re feeling under the weather that blood flow increases, leading to more swelling and mucus production. 

Though your entire nose is experiencing congestion, the turbinate connected to the dominant nostril will naturally feel more clogged due to the swelling that already occurs during the normal nasal cycle. Dr. Roditi noted that the switch between nostrils can take place every 90 minutes to four hours.

There’s such a thing as a collapsed nostril.

You may not think much about your nostrils on a daily basis, but any damage to them could create a whole host of problems. 

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WebMD lists four possible reasons for a nasal valve collapse: a direct injury to the nose, the build-up of scar tissue from nose surgery, nostrils that are too narrow, and an excessive use of drugs inhaled through the nose (like cocaine).

Sufferers typically feel like their nose is blocked up and they may even experience bleeding. They also tend to have more difficulty breathing while lying down. WebMD points out that there are different ways to treat a nostril collapse depending on the level of injury.

"If your damage is minor and just makes you snore at night, you might try a nasal valve dilator," the healthcare website states. "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."

But those with serious cases tend to need plastic surgery to fix the issue. "During the operation, your doctor will spread your nostril open with a special tool," the site reads. "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."

We think the lesson here is to keep your nose protected at all costs. 

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