Why can I breathe better with water in my nose?
February 16, 2008 8:19 AM   Subscribe

Why is my nose-breathing markedly improved if I moisten my nasal passages with saline spray?

I'm not talking about actually spraying the saline, but just getting a drop on my finger or the tip of the spray bottle and rubbing it all around inside my nose. This gives immediate relief to mild inflammation due to cat allergies, and goes away as soon as the saline is absorbed/evaporated (less than a minute).

Why does this happen, and is there anything I can do to give myself more long-term breathing relief? The imflammation requires me to breathe through my mouth while cycling and, since I'm about to start that again, I'd love to have a less-dry mouth when exercising.

No need to recommend sinus irrigation because I do that on occasion and don't get this kind of immediate but short-term improvement.

More info: I take zyrtec daily, am not a stranger to sinus infections, and had septoplasty and turbinate reduction surgery a year ago.
posted by odi.et.amo to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You might try following the wetting with moisturizer, just rub a little standard facial moisturizer in the same way. I find that helps me with the same problems and lasts longer than that one minute. You could carry a little tube while cycling.
posted by beagle at 8:57 AM on February 16, 2008

also - vaseline up the nose [I use a q-tip] keeps you breathing all day long.
The downside is that you smell vaseline all day long, but hey.
[that's what my doctor recommended for me]
posted by Acari at 9:18 AM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Vaseline=moisturizer, so that makes sense.
Also see this product called Cann-Ease, which is a non-greasy nasal moisturizer made specifically to help people breathe who are using oxygen and other breathing apparatus. Probably not so smelly as Vaseline.
posted by beagle at 10:23 AM on February 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

(and, as to why it happens - it happens because the saline water solution dries up in an instant. The moisturizer will keep the nasal lining from drying out for a much longer time.)
posted by beagle at 10:26 AM on February 16, 2008

I learned about nasal irrigation from askmefi and I commend it highly unto thee.

This link goes to a mayo clinic video about it (the audio and video starts as soon as you click the link).

It feels odd rinsing out your sinuses with saltwater, but boy does it work well. It made my husband's recurrent sinus infections pretty much disappear.
posted by selfmedicating at 11:49 AM on February 16, 2008 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: As stated above, I already do sinus irrigation.

I tried a vaseline-like product and that didn't make it any better, but using regular moisturizer seems to produce similar results, though it still doesn't make sense to me why this helps me breathe...
posted by odi.et.amo at 1:04 PM on February 16, 2008

Best answer: That you get instant relief from simply applying a little saline solution to the inside of your nose with a finger suggests that the purpose of the "mild inflammation" you experience is to moisturize that part of your nose, but that it isn't working for some reason. I would say that feeling of stuffiness you are getting in your nose when it's dry is the result of increased blood engorgement in the nasal passages (thereby narrowing them) which is meant to facilitate the process of secretion there. Since you also get a dry mouth from breathing through your mouth, I was going to suggest you could be getting dehydrated and you should pay attention to that, but then I noticed one of the main side effects of Zyrtec is dry mouth. Maybe the Zyrtec could be causing the nasal dryness, too-- and the "inflammation" that makes it hard to breathe through your nose in turn.

It's interesting that mucus tends to be hygroscopic. A layer of mucus deposited in the nose would function to absorb water from your breath as you breathe out and moisturize dry outside air as you breathe in, but I guess the challenges of marketing 'Artificial Snot' would be too great for us to be able to look forward to seeing it on drugstore shelves anytime soon, although I do think a synthetic mucopolysaccharide would have a lot of advantages over vaseline and other commercially available moisturizers.

You clearly have suffered from chronic sinusitis, and looking over your questions, I am wondering if a recent study of people with chronic sinusitis might not explain a couple of the issues you raise in those questions. According to the study

Although it's unclear why it's so, scientists at Johns Hopkins have linked a gene that allows for the chemical breakdown of the tough, protective casing that houses insects and worms to the severe congestion and polyp formation typical of chronic sinusitis.

The "tough protective casing" referred to is of chitin (also a major component of the cell walls of mold and fungi, and mold spores, as well as shellfish), the gene is for chitinase, and that gene

is up to 250 times more active in people with severe sinus inflammation that persists even after surgery when compared to patients in whom surgery is successful.

Chitin often causes allergy and inflammation in human beings, including "crab shell asthma" in workers in seafood factories, but chitin and its byproducts such as chitosan have become major ingredients in foods, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and toiletries. Given your history of sinusitis, I would nominate some form of chitin as the most likely culprit in the My-tresses-cause-me-stresses quest for the ingredient that's causing your problems with shampoo, because it is widely used to impart body and shine to hair.

Now this is really reaching, but I think there is at least some possibility that there is a chitin/chitinase connection between your sinusitis and your nightmares about bugs. You mention that the latest round of these was set off by an invasion of springtails, and that's a double-chitin whammy since lots of chitin is in the springtails and the mold they eat. If the mere presence of chitin in the air is enough to set off buggy nightmares along with sinusitis in some susceptible people, perhaps including you, as I'm suggesting here, you'd expect to see some association between arthropod phobias and diseases such as allergies, asthma, and sinusitis.

I did find lots of claims that many people have a fear of mold which is essentially phobic, and some claims that phobias can cause specific allergies, but nothing other than scattered anecdotes to support the idea that arthropod phobias correlate with allergies, asthma and sinusitis. Asthma and social phobia do seem to be correlated, and I did find one intriguing report from New Zealand of ten patients who were admitted to Christchurch Hospital over a two year period for "contact with venomous spiders", and for whom spider bites were not clinically confirmed, that four of the ten had asthma.

I think there is a good chance your sinusitis is worsened by airborne (mold spores and dust mites, etc.), dietary, and cosmetic chitin, and that you might feel better if you took steps to minimize those exposures.
posted by jamjam at 4:07 PM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have the same antihistamine dry mouth/training combo. It's no fun!

Have you tried Nose Better? I use it when I train because it makes it so much easier to breathe through my nose. Great stuff.

The other thing, is I usually chew gum while I train. It keeps my mouth a bit wetter which makes it easier to breathe. I've used Biotene gum. It's okay, but it loses it's flavor in 2 minutes. Any regular gum will work just as well.
posted by 26.2 at 9:49 AM on February 18, 2008

Response by poster: Offline conversation with jamjam revealed that it's intensely difficult to avoid chitin, and allergy test results make that allergy seem unlikely. I'll continue to spread regular moisturizer in my nose (thanks beagle) and give the gum-chewing a try when I start biking again (thanks 26.2).

I'll also purchase another HEPA filter for my aparment to keep in the living area (other one is in the bedroom) and see if that helps (thanks jamjam).
posted by odi.et.amo at 11:09 AM on February 21, 2008

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