It’s Normal For Half Your Nose to Always Feel Blocked

January 5, 2012 at 2:00 am 29 comments

By Chad Upton | Editor

You probably don’t think about it much, but if you did, you’d notice that it often feels like one nostril or the other is always plugged. That’s completely normal for about 70% of adults.

Assuming you’re healthy, your “plugged” nostril actually allows a tiny amount of air through and your other nostril handles the rest. After an average of 2.5 hours, the cycle will shift and use the alternate nostril as the primary source of air. The following scan shows one nasal passage mostly blocked and the other mostly open.

For a long time, Eastern medicine has had theories about the purpose of this cycle and a number of exercises that involve moving air through a specific nostril. On the other hand, Western scientists didn’t come up with a physiological purpose for this phenomena until more recently.

Research indicates that the high/low flow approach in the two nostrils optimizes your sense of smell. As you’ve probably discovered first hand, or shall we say finger, the inside of your nose is lined with mucus. This mucus continues deep inside your nasal passage and is very important; it acts as a barrier and helps protect your brain from infection. But, it also means that something you smell has to be absorbed by the mucus before you can smell it.

This mucus absorbs different chemical compounds at different rates. Therefore, some smells are better detected when they are absorbed in more concentrated levels in the slow moving airstream of your plugged nostril while others are better smelled when absorbed in lower concentration through the fast moving airstream of the other nostril.

Humans have about 1.6 sq inches (10 cm²) of smell receptor cells in our nasal passage. By contrast, dogs have 17 times more space dedicated to these same receptors, and in greater density, which explains why their sense of smell is so much better than ours.

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Photo credit: Len Matthews (cc), Wikimedia Commons (cc)

Sources: wikipedia (Nasal Cycle, Olfaction)

Entry filed under: Animals, Health and Beauty. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

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29 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Ago  |  January 8, 2012 at 9:13 am

    you just saved me a doctors appointment…amazing! I’ve been meaning to get it checked out for years…

    • 2. Niina  |  January 15, 2012 at 2:34 am

      If the blocked side of your nose is disturbing you (unable to breath, unable to smell, just feeling ill/tired all the time), you might want to get it checked by a doctor.

  • 3. Ben  |  February 6, 2012 at 3:19 am

    and that is way I love your site.. simply awesome

  • 4. Andy  |  July 7, 2012 at 11:18 pm

    Thank you! Was planning to get my nose checked!

  • 5. doug  |  September 7, 2012 at 4:54 am

    This is the biggest load of crap and totally not true!! I just used my Neti Pot and cleaned out my sinus and I CAN BREATHE OUT BOTH NOSTRILS WONDEFULLY.. Find a different source!! GO TO AN ENT FOLKS PROBABLY A DEVIATED SEPTUM.. TRY A NETI POT BEFORE YOU LISTEN TO THIS PERSON WRITING THIS.

    • 6. Yorch  |  September 26, 2012 at 5:25 pm

      To people willing to listen to this person, please research neti pots, correct use and health risks before trying it. Second, @doug while increasing air flow on both nostrils at the same time is possible, it’s not normal. I can increase air flow to my lungs by puncturing my larinx, it doesn’t mean I’ll be healthier.

      • 7. youknowho  |  February 22, 2013 at 2:16 am

        Bad way to refute a claim… reducio ad absurdum, really? What are you, a politician? This guy offers good insight … though they shouldn’t be advertising.

        In short, go see a professional, people.

    • 8. holdon  |  May 20, 2013 at 6:10 am

      douche’ing also was once thought a good thing.

  • 9. anton  |  November 23, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    he Mr. Doug, go to school… and ask your money back !!
    BTW don’t fill your nettypot with rhum but with salty water!
    Nasal cycle is 100% through… and even worst… its by over the 85 to 90% of ALL people…
    sleep tight…

  • 10. Adrian  |  December 18, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    So I had this issue chronically and could barley pull air through one side of my nose, eventually saw an ENT Dr. who found I had a deviated septum which was blocking the air, he said this was extremely common, esp with men. Basically if you’ve every smacked your nose to the point it bled, you probably bent the septum. I had a septoplasty and termolite reduction on the other side to straighten and “balance” the two nostrils for better airflow. I breathe AND smell things much better now btw. Its not a fun surgery and the recovery is fairly significant but my breathing is so much better and I don’t have as many issues on planes with pressure that used to be excruciating even with the Neti Pods and Afrin.

  • 11. C Wilson  |  February 12, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    adrian, did you find yourself less tired after your corrective surgery? (I’m trying to determine if a perpetually blocked nostril might be contributing to my chronic “idiopathic hypersomnia” (meaning very tired all the time, no apparent reason after tons of medical tests were done); i’ve been searching for years and am going to EMT next week to investigate the nostril situation. I would be very reluctant to have surgical intervention unless I have a better sense of whether it will help. My tonsilectomy 10 years ago was a near death experience so I’m loathe to repeat almost bleeding to death. :\

    • 12. anton  |  February 12, 2013 at 6:56 pm

      Hi Wilson, idiopathic hypersomnia, is often the results of Sleep apnea. Most people are not aware of the fact they have it yes or no. You dont need severe Sleep apnea for having this problem as some people are real sensitive to it.
      Try to get your sleep by breathing as MUCH as possible through the nose and not the mouth. i found success by using a Nasivent tube soft comfortable nose dilator. i bought it on good luck.

  • 13. BillyBobThorton  |  June 14, 2013 at 7:09 am

    Absolute Bullshit! God Created me with 2 nostrils, hence they should work together at the same time, just like my hands, feet, ears, and eyes. And i don’t trust your statistics whatsoever, and if your using wiki, then well you are a full blow retard because wiki is full of shit. Article was written by a 6th grader. I feel sad for the people who actually believed this article as well.

    • 14. Anton Bende  |  June 14, 2013 at 8:06 am

      Hello mr. Billy…. not always shit in wiki. I am dr. Spec. ENT. The nasal cycle is truth. Even more; is in appr. 80 % of all people. Read more before you react.

      • 15. Genie  |  June 30, 2013 at 9:36 am

        I would like to believe the nasal cycle but with the clogging up I get small headaches with pressure on the side that is clogged. Its not a sinus infection…so why would that be a normal cycle that causes pressure and headache…wonder if I am allergic to something-food,mold,etc…

      • 16. A. Bende  |  June 30, 2013 at 12:01 pm

        on one side has nothing to do with open or blocked air passes.
        1e Q; how old are you?
        2e Q: do you snore?
        3e: are you tiered in the day time around 4 o clock?

    • 17. Steve  |  June 15, 2013 at 8:07 am

      Your arms work independently from each other and so do your left and right sinuses. What would be the point in having two of something if they had to do the same thing at the same time?

      You lose all credibility when you don’t know the difference between your and you’re. They teach that before 6th grade, but it’s not surprising that things were going over your head by that point.

  • 18. Cheesecake  |  June 15, 2013 at 7:03 am

    Maybe some of this true but the Percentage seems decently bogus to me. I started having this issue a few years back. It makes it hard to sleep because it feels like I’m not getting enough oxygen.

    But I’ve talked to most of my friends and family and even a lot of strangers about the feeling of only being able to breathe from 1 nostril (and having it change from left to right) and EVERY SINGLE one of them thought that was extremely odd and had no knowledge of this ‘normal cycle’.

    So I find it hard to believe when you start throwing out numbers like 70%-90%.

  • 19. A. Bende  |  June 30, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    i can see, its hard to believe. but it is just as normal as “hunger feeling” we all are aware of that. We are not aware of the Nasal cycle, as it should not boring you. But when we start getting older, it will.
    I can recommend a site to look at. As I don’t like to type it over and over again…

    Here you will find at all!

  • 20. Hallam  |  July 20, 2013 at 5:33 am

    Hi i have had this for just over a month now, i have had it before but it would only last a couple days max, I am easily irritated by it and wondering what the best advice is, i smoke weed daily which i assume plays a big factor in this, i also used my netti pod at first for the first week, maybe a little to much. Could this have bought the blocked nose on? I try to avoid using medicine, would you recommend seeing my Gp?

    • 21. A. Bende  |  July 20, 2013 at 5:55 am

      smoking is never good. Pot or cigars etc… The fact that you never noticed is in the fact of aware. not all are aware of nasal cycle. it satrts to be a problem for snoring and or sleep apnea. findout more on this look a good site.

  • 22. Hallam  |  July 21, 2013 at 6:35 am

    thanks for your reply my partner hasnt mentioned anything about snoring its more the irritation of my breathing, having a blocked nose on a hot day or when smoking, would you say its best bet to let nature take its course an run it out or book in with my gp?

  • 23. Lakshmi Narayanan  |  July 22, 2013 at 7:32 am

    This is simple Explained in Indian Science nearly 3000 years ago.
    You can try this on your own.

    It is Switching your body as heat & cool on its own.We need both heat(Sun) & Cold(Moon) to survive.

    Sun Cycle-To feel the heat in your body.

    Close your left nossil manual Inhale the air in right nostril hold for 10 to 18 sec & Close your Right Nossil leave the air(Co2) via Right Nossil.
    Do this for 30 Minutes.(Tuesday/Saturday/Sunday & Thursday (Thursday-Moon cycle goes from Full moon to New moon day)

    Moon Cycle-To feel the Cool in your body.

    Close your Right nossil manual Inhale the air in Left nostril hold for 10 to 18 sec & Close your Left Nossil leave the air(Co2) through Right Nossil
    Do this for 30 Minutes.(Monday/Wednesday/Friday & Thursday (Thursday-Moon cycle goes from new moon to Full moon day)

    Whatever is thier in Universe is same is their in our Body.
    All Animals,Birds,etc.,has two nossils but at a time they breathe only one side.100 % .

    While changing the cycle for some moment(1-3 Minute),both nossil will work.

    Whomever is having fits they have a problem on Saturday Instaed of above Sun cycle,(Right Nossil breathe) Moon cycle(Left nossil breathe).

    • 24. Fuzzy Dunlop  |  November 21, 2014 at 1:25 pm

      I did this, but it was during a full moon and I accidentally killed a chicken while doing it, and now I have summoned a Greater Demon of the Ninth Ring of Hell, called Pazuzu. He won’t leave the couch and is eating me out of house and home. He also clogs the toilet like you wouldn’t believe.

      Thanks for not warning me of the dangers of dabbling in your hocus pocus mumbo jumbo, @Lakshmi.

  • 25. tarun  |  August 16, 2013 at 1:44 am

    sir i have a point too if my one nostril is blocked will it lead to a feeling that my ear is also type of blocked ??

    becuase of that i m feeling numerous type of stresses and its been almost 1 year i have been feelin the same

  • 26. Bright  |  September 3, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    1 side of my nostril is always block if i lie down, it always change base on how i position my self during sleeping. Tanx

  • 27. jai  |  January 1, 2015 at 8:21 am

    I am 29 ane My left nose is usually blocked but if lye down on right side it blocks the right nostle and left opens up, i have this problems for years, and i have post nasel drip for last 15 years as well

    I was told by allergist that i have grass pollen allergie, so if blocked nose is normal as per above research then why i have post nasel drip ? And is there is any connection between my blocked nostle and mucus drip in my throat 24/7 ?

    Please somebody help me

  • 28. Janice Terona  |  August 11, 2015 at 11:42 am

    Why is it everywhere you go people want to fight about something? Even about your nose?

  • 29. Janice Terona  |  August 11, 2015 at 11:52 am

    Right now my left ear has been blocked for 3 months after a really extreme sinus and bronchial infection. Doctors (ENT, Primary care, audiologists ) say nothing is wrong, looks normal, suspect a Eustachian Tube dysfunction. This is becoming insanely emotional for me. Wait is what they suggest, wait and give it more time and spray, prednisone 2 times, etc. etc. Tinnitus also, sensitive to sounds. Any suggestions before I jump out of a window? Kidding about that though. Any help appreciated.


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