Nasal Breathing & Sinus Disorders

Nasal Breathing & Sinus Disorders

 Nasal Breathing & Sinus Disorders

Nasal breathing and sinus problems are relatively common, but treatment for these conditions may allow you to recover a normal lifestyle. These difficulties may have several causes, including:

  • Sinusitis (inflammation of the sinuses). Chronic sinus inflammation is a common cause of difficulty breathing nasally, affecting about 15 percent of the U.S. population. Although this condition is not life threatening, studies show that chronic sinusitis causes a lower quality of life than asthma or congestive heart failure. We do not know for sure what causes this chronic condition, but some contributing factors include persistent bacterial infection, allergies or environmental irritants, variations in anatomy such as a deviated septum or dental infections. Smoking seems to aggravate congestion. Chronic sinusitis can also result in polyps (small non-cancerous growths) in the sinuses.
  • Damage to the nose and sinuses. Trauma (injury) to the nose and sinuses may make it difficult or impossible to breathe through the nose. A broken nose that heals improperly is an example of damage that may lead to chronic difficulty breathing nasally.
  • Deviated septum. Crookedness or other deformity of the tissue that divides the interior of the nose can cause problems breathing. This condition may be congenital (present at birth) or result from facial trauma.
  • Nasal Valve Collapse (NVC). When tissues of the nose are not formed correctly or are weak, the nose may collapse slightly when you inhale. This condition constricts the passage of air into the lungs.

Sinus problems and difficulty breathing nasally may often be treated successfully. Indiana University Health Ear, Nose & Throat specialists understand the challenges you may have because of difficulty breathing through the nose. We make appointments available as quickly as possible—sometimes for the day you call. Our comprehensive patient- and family-centered approach makes sure your needs and preferences are the focus of our treatment decisions.

Our physicians have extensive experience in effectively treating conditions such as sinusitis, deviated septum and nasal valve collapse. We also collaborate with reconstructive surgeons and head and neck surgeons to treat complex conditions that require multiple specialties. When necessary we perform related procedures together in one surgery, which speeds healing and rehabilitation. This multidisciplinary approach underlies all we do and helps us tailor treatment to your particular condition.

As part of our partnership with Indiana University School of Medicine, many of our specialists educate the next generation of doctors and stay current with the latest developments in diagnostic and treatment techniques. We also conduct research into causes of chronic sinusitis by collecting and analyzing sinus tissue. Ongoing study of this tissue helps us develop new methods for treating this often debilitating condition. 

How We Can Help

Nasal Breathing & Sinus Disorders Treatment Information

Nasal breathing and sinus problems may be improved significantly or eliminated using a variety of treatments.


A simple and effective treatment for sinusitis is rinsing out your sinuses with saline solution. This clears out mucus and removes irritants. Relief is temporary, but you can easily repeat this process at home as needed. Other treatments include:

  • Nasal steroid sprays to reduce inflammation in the sinuses
  • Allergy evaluation and treatment
  • Antibiotics to fight infection

When these treatments cannot control sinusitis, we may open sinuses using balloon catheters (tubes that inflate to spread tissue apart) or perform surgery. We may also implant stents (tubes that hold passages open) to drain sinuses while slowly releasing drugs that help control inflammation of sinus tissues. If there are polyps (small non-cancerous growths) in the sinuses, we may also remove these. Ninety percent of people who have these treatments report significant improvement in their sinusitis symptoms. Patients with polyps may need surgery again if these small growths recur (come back).

Deviated Septum

Malformation of the wall dividing the inside of your nose can impair breathing significantly. The problem can be congenital or may be caused by facial trauma (injury). We treat this condition surgically, reshaping the inner structure of the nose to allow free passage of air through the nose and into the airway leading to the lungs.

Nasal Valve Collapse

In some people, the outer walls of the nose are thin and collapse slightly with each breath. This constricts the airway and can cause difficulty breathing. Over-the-counter adhesive strips may help improve this condition without surgery. The strips fold over the bridge of your nose and hold the walls open. This treatment may improve breathing enough to solve the problem. If breathing strips are not effective, our surgeons can rebuild your nose by moving cartilage to open the nasal valve. This reconstruction works in a way similar to breathing strips, but it solves the problem permanently.


Damage to the bones and cartilage of the face can impair or block the nasal airway. We open closed passages and work with facial plastic surgeons to reconstruct the shape and function of the sinuses, nose and face. Sometimes a patient needs a number of operations over time to give the delicate bones and other tissues of the face time to heal between procedures. Bones and muscles underlying facial structures are complex. It takes time to rebuild them so they can support the forces of facial movements and chewing.

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