A decade of Breathe Right strips
Maybe 7 or 8 years ago I started notice that I had trouble breathing through my nose while lying in bed at night. It bothered me a little bit, but not too much. I generally slept well and had plenty of energy during the day. I didn't think much about it until I saw a TV ad for Breathe Right strips, basically sticky strips of plastic that you put across the front of your nose to pull open your nostrils. I bought a pack at CVS and started using them at night. They definitely helped me breathe at night, and I became a convert.
Fast forward to a year ago and I'm not sleeping well. I'm falling asleep alright and sleeping through the night, but I'm waking up tired. My nose is feeling congested during the day too, even though I'm not sick. I'm struggling to make it through the day without an afternoon nap or a cup of coffee. (I've never been a coffee drinker, so caffeine is new to me, lol!) Some days are worse and some are better. Some days I get to work and immediately want to nap on the sofa in the lobby, but other days I have enough energy to swim laps at the Y.
I probably should have gone to the doctor at this point, but I have a PhD in Physics and I'm stubborn so I start trying to figure things out on my own. I record my sleep with SnoreLab and find that I've started snoring. I switch from the regular to extra-strength Breathe Right strips, which helps a bit. I start taking daily Claritin in case I've developed allergies, but it doesn't help. I try taking Sudafed before bed and—wow—it really opens up my sinuses. I wake up really refreshed and energized! That's...good...right? At this point I've done enough googling to know that you shouldn't use decongestants for more than a few days because you can become dependent on them.
I finally see my PCP and he takes one look in my nostrils and says “Your turbinates are really swollen!” “What does that mean? What are turbinates?” I ask. “They're normal anatomy, but yours are really swollen, especially this one,” he says, gesturing to the left side of my nose. “I think you should see an ENT.”
Fast forward a couple weeks and I'm sitting in my ENT's exam room getting a nasal endoscopy, which is fairly tolerable until starts to push the endoscope through the back of my sinus and down to my vocal folds. Eventually he gives the verdict: I have very large inferior turbinates, a deviated septum towards my left side, and some nasal valve collapse. He believes the turbinates are my primary issue, which is consistent with my congestion gradually worsening over a couple years, not preferring one side or the other, and responding to Sudafed.
For now, he says I have to try Flonase for 2-3 months “before insurance will entertain anything else”, but remarks that there a few surgical options to consider if it comes to that. First is an outpatient procedure called turbinate coblation to shrink the inferion turbinates. Second is a surgical reduction of the turbinates (surgeons use innocent-sounding phrases like “shaving them down”). And last are septoplasty to fix my deviated septum, and even rhinoplasty to strengthen my nasal valve (“Think of it like an internal breathe right strip”).
It's a relief to know that there are physical causes of my congestion, and that there are options to address them. So, perfectionist that I am, I watch about a dozen videos on YouTube about how to correctly use nasal sprays, and start using Flonase twice a day, and...to be continued in Part 2!
Posted by Abraham