What causes nasal flaring? 12 possible conditions
Nasal flaring is when the nostrils widen while a person is breathing. It is a sign that the person is having difficulty breathing. It is most commonly seen in children and infants; in those cases nasal flaring can indicate respiratory distress.
Nasal flaring can be caused by a number of conditions, ranging from temporary illnesses to long-term conditions and even accidents.
Bacterial and Viral Infections
You may notice your nostrils flaring if you are suffering from a severe infection, such as influenza (flu). It is most commonly seen in people with serious respiratory conditions, such as pneumonia and bronchiolitis. Another common cause is croup, an inflammation of the larynx and trachea in children, which is associated with infection.
Nasal flaring is common in people suffering from acute asthma. It may occur along with other common asthma symptoms, such as wheezing, tightness of the chest, and shortness of breath. Asthma can be triggered by a number of stimuli, ranging from animals to dust, mold, and pollen.
Epiglottitis is inflammation of the tissue covering the trachea (windpipe). It is rare now because of childhood immunization against the bacteria that causes it (H.Influenzae type B). Epiglottitis was once most commonly seen in children aged two to six. It would be rare for an adult to develop the disease.
If you have a blockage in the air passages around your nose, mouth, or throat, you will find it increasingly difficult to breathe.
If you notice a child or infant with persistent nasal flaring, seek emergency medical attention.
You should also seek medical attention if you notice a blue tinge in your lips, skin, or nail beds. This indicates that sufficient oxygen is not being pumped through your body.
Nasal flaring is usually an indication of a bigger problem and is not directly treated. It is not a symptom that can be treated at home.
Your doctor will ask you a number of questions about your difficulty breathing. This will include when it began, if it is getting better or worse, and whether you have other symptoms, such as fatigue, drowsiness, or sweating.
He or she will listen to your lungs and breathing sounds, and ascertain if there is any associated wheezing or if your breathing is unusually noisy.
Your doctor may order any or all of the following tests:
- arterial blood gas to measure how much oxygen and carbon dioxide are in your blood
- complete blood count to check for signs of infection
- electrocardiogram (ECG) to assess how your heart is working
- pulse oximetry to check the oxygen level in your blood
- chest X-rays to look for signs of infection or damage
If your breathing problem is severe, you may be given supplemental oxygen.
If a diagnosis of asthma is made, your initial treatment will depend on the severity of your attack. You may be referred to an asthma nurse to discuss your condition. Your ongoing treatment will depend on how well your symptoms are managed. The most common treatment is inhaled corticosteroids to relieve inflammation and swelling of your airways. You may also have a quick-relief inhaler to use at the onset of an attack. Part of your therapy may include a nebulizer, which turns liquid medication into a fine mist that can be inhaled. Nebulizers are electric or battery powered; delivery of medication by nebulizer can take five minutes or more. It’s a good idea to keep a diary of your asthma symptoms to identify potential triggers.
Nasal flaring is a symptom of breathing difficulties. In most cases, these difficulties will worsen until the cause is diagnosed and treated. Nasal flaring is unlikely to go away without treatment for the underlying cause.
Nasal flaring that is treated using medications or inhalers typically has no long-term consequences.
- How is asthma treated and controlled? (2012, June 15). National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Retrieved August 1, 2012, from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/asthma/treatment.html
- Nasal flaring. (n.d.). National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved July 26, 2012, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0003546/
- Nasal flaring. (n.d.). University of Maryland Medical Center. Retrieved July 26, 2012, from http://www.umm.edu/ency/article/003055.htm
- Understanding the stress response. (n.d.). Harvard Health Publications. Retrieved July 26, 2012, from http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Mental_Health_Letter/2011/March/understanding-the-stress-response
See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.
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