Most people don't give much thought to the insides of their noses until they have difficulty breathing through them. There are several problems that can make it difficult to breathe through the nose. Discovering the source of the problem is the first step in finding the solution.
Congestion is a common problem that causes difficulty breathing through the nose. Congestion is caused when the mucus membranes that line the nasal passages become inflamed and produce excess mucus. People often describe congestion as a "stuffy" nose. Congestion can be caused by infection, such as the common cold, or by an allergic reaction. There are over-the-counter medications called decongestants that can be used to help relieve nasal congestion.
The septum is the wall that separates the two sides of the nose. The septum is seen as the skin that separates the nostrils, and it travels up the length of the nose to the sinus cavities. The septum should divide the two sides equally. When a person has a deviated septum, the septum instead leans or curves to one side, which can cover or obstruct the opening at the top of the nasal cavities on that side. This can make it difficult to breathe through the nose on the affected side. A deviated septum is corrected with a surgery called a septoplasty.
Nasal polyps are noncancerous growths inside the nasal cavity. They are shaped like a partially inflated balloon or a teardrop. Nasal polyps can develop from a lengthy infection or irritation. They can also occur without provocation in a person genetically predisposed to developing polyps. Some nasal polyps are small and don't create problems, but others can become large enough to block the nasal cavity, making it difficult to breathe. In some cases, a nasal steroid spray can be used to reduce the size of the nasal polyps. Other people may require surgery to have the polyps removed.
A foreign object in the nose can cause nose breathing problems. This situation is more common in children than adults, although adults can accidentally inhale a small insect or through the nose. Adults can also lodge food in the nasal cavity from the back of the mouth by coughing or sneezing while eating. If the object is visible up the nostril, a person can try to take it out with a pair of tweezers. If it is not visible or is firmly lodged in the nose, a visit to the doctor may be required for removal.
The skin and hairs around the opening of the nostrils is delicate and prone to irritation from a runny nose or from rubbing or blowing the nose often. This can sometimes result in an infection of the skin or hair follicles just inside the nostril. These types of infections are called nasal vestibulitis. The inflammation caused by the infection can make it more difficult to breathe through the nose. In more serious infections, a hair follicle can develop into a boil, blocking the nostril completely. Most infections can be successfully treated with an antibiotic ointment, but excessive swelling or boils may require further medical attention.