Why is Only One Nostril Clogged? (Don't Worry, It's Normal)

A young woman breathing through one nostril.

We've all been here. You try to take a long, deep breath, and then you feel one nostril clogged while the other can easily breathe fresh air. It may feel like the wind hitting a brick wall; nothing is getting through! But you're not sick, your hay fever is under control, and nothing in the air is bothering you.

So why is only one nostril clogged?

This is actually 100 percent normal and happens by design. You are sometimes only able to breathe through one nostril because of a process called the nasal cycle.

However, the nasal cycle is one of many reasons one of your nostrils is clogged. Let's take a look at these.

What is the Nasal Cycle?

The nasal cycle is an automatic process that takes place multiple times a day to keep each nostril working as efficiently as possible. While you may not notice it, you always breathe more deeply in one nostril than the other

Your body alternates which nostril is most open every couple of hours and balances the duties of each nostril so they both work as they should at any given time. [1]

What Is The Purpose Of The Nasal Cycle?

There may be a few reasons why your body carries out the nasal cycle. The first is that it helps maintain your sense of smell.

Some scents are more easily picked up when air moves through your nose quickly, while others are detected more easily with slower airflow. [2] 

So if one nostril is more open, the faster airflow is more effective for picking up some smells, while the more closed nostril picks up smells that are detectable with slower airflow. This gives you a more complete sense of smell.

The following reason is that it may protect the delicate inside of your nose from contaminants and dirty air. A robust and uninterrupted stream of air can dry out your sinuses and damage the tiny hairs lining each nasal cavity, making you more vulnerable to contaminants like pollen, fumes, and dust mites.

To protect your nasal cavity from irritants, one of your nostrils narrows so that you're better protected from anything in the air that could cause irritation.

Why Is Only One Nostril Clogged When I’m Sick?

Despite your nasal cycle being in constant motion throughout the day, you'll probably only notice this cycle taking place when one of your nostrils is blocked due to a cold, a sinus infection, or allergy symptoms.

During the nasal cycle, your body increases the blood flow in one nasal cavity at a time, which normally goes unnoticed. 

When you are sick or congested, the blood flow increases even more as your nasal cavity tries to fight off infection. This causes additional swelling to the nasal cavity making it more challenging to take in air through the affected nostril. Even though congestion is wreaking havoc on both sides of your nose, the nostril in the active part of the nasal cycle will feel more clogged.

7 Other Reasons Why One Nostril Is Clogged

While your nasal cycle is the main reason one of your nostrils is clogged, it's not the only cause. Here are seven other factors that can cause one nostril to become clogged.

#1: Deviated Septum

Also known as deviated nasal septum, a deviated septum is a condition where your septum— the cartilage and bone in the center of your nose— is crooked or off-center.

This can cause one nasal passage to be smaller than the other, causing reduced airflow and breathing difficulty. A deviated septum can also create a continuous blockage in one nostril.

#2: Sleeping on Your Side

While sleeping on your side is one of the best ways to help you get enough airflow while you sleep, you can also accidentally cause stuffiness while side-sleeping.

If you sleep primarily on one side, sleeping on a single nostril over the other can cause that nasal passage to become congested.

Related: Why Do I Wake Up With A Stuffy Nose? (And How to Fix It)

#3: Sinusitis

Also known as a sinus infection, sinusitis occurs when the tissue lining your sinuses becomes inflamed or swollen. Sinusitis is typically caused by the common cold or bacterial infections. 

Nasal congestion is a common sign of sinusitis, and this congestion can become concentrated in one nostril more than the other.

#4: Nasal Polyps

Nasal polyps are benign growths in your nasal cavities. They're generally harmless but can cause annoying nasal symptoms, including congestion.

That's because these small, teardrop-shaped growths can obstruct your airways and make breathing more difficult.

#5: Foreign Objects in Your Nose

Not including nasal polyps or other foreign objects in your nose can obstruct your airways and make breathing more difficult.

These can happen at any age but are most common in children because they are more likely to insert foreign objects into their noses.

#6: Allergic Rhinitis

Millions of Americans suffer from allergic rhinitis— more commonly known as allergies. A stuffy nose is one of the most common nasal allergy symptoms, and they can clog one or both nostrils.

#7: Rhinitis Medicamentosa

Rhinitis medicamentosa is a unique form of nasal congestion that comes from the overuse of nasal decongestant spray. Nasal sprays constrict the blood vessels in your nose to help you breathe better, but excessive use can actually worsen your congestion.

First, you'll require more medication to get the same therapeutic effect you originally received. This can cause your congestion to worsen, even if you're still using the medication!

Take a Deep Breath: It's Just the Nasal Cycle At Work

If you've ever been frustrated with a clogged nostril and wondered why it happens, don't worry! It's a normal occurrence, and it happens more often than you may notice. However, a single blocked nostril can be caused by other nasal problems, which tend to be the most noticeable.

Thankfully, congestion in any form can be treated quickly and effectively using our SinuSonic device. 

SinuSonic combines gentle vibrations and light pressure to open your airways and help clear excess mucus naturally and drug-free.

Whether one or both nostrils are clogged, SinuSonic can provide powerful but gentle relief in just two minutes a day!

Want to relieve nasal congestion and breathe more efficiently? Breathe freely with SinuSonic!

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  1. Kahana-Zweig, Roni, et al. "Measuring and Characterizing the Human Nasal Cycle." PloS One, Public Library of Science, 6 Oct. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5053491/.
  2. Oka, Yuki, et al. "Nasal Airflow Rate Affects the Sensitivity and Pattern of Glomerular Odorant Responses in the Mouse Olfactory Bulb." The Journal of Neuroscience: the Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience, Society for Neuroscience, 30 Sept. 2009, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6666155/.