Study Shows Athletes Get No Kick From Nasal Strips

June 05, 1998

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Athletes who wear a nasal strip thinking it will increase their air intake and improve their performance are fooling themselves, a new study by exercise science researchers at the University at Buffalo shows.

Thirteen subjects at UB performed two progressive exercise tests on a cycle ergometer while the researchers measured air flow, nasal ventilation and nasal resistance under two conditions -- wearing a nasal strip across the nostrils, as recommended by the manufacturer, and wearing the strip over the nasal bone, an incorrect and ineffectual placement that served as a control.

Results showed that the properly placed nasal strip had no effect on breathing during intense exercise and didn't improve exercise performance.

Results of the study were presented here today (June 5, 1998) at the American College of Sports Medicine meeting.

"A lot of athletes are wearing nasal strips, and most aren't wearing them where recommended," said Frank Cerny, Ph.D., professor and chair of UB Department of Physical Therapy, Exercise and Nutrition Sciences. "We wanted to see if the strips, when worn correctly, have any effect at this level of performance. The answer is, they don't."

The strips are designed to hold the nostrils open. They make breathing through the nose easier during low or moderate activity, such as a slow jog or leisurely bicycling, but not at high levels of exercise where enhanced performance is desired, Cerny said.

The study was based on the existence of a physiological condition called the "switch point," the moment at which a person performing a high-intensity task -- such as an athlete chasing a hockey puck or going out for a pass -- changes from breathing through the nose to breathing through the mouth as the demand for oxygen increases. A nasal strip would have to extend an athlete's time to switch point beyond that reached normally during exercise to be of any benefit.

"Such a result would show that the nasal strip made nasal breathing easier longer," Cerny explained.

The test subjects wore separate masks over their noses and mouths during the exercise tests so researchers could measure air flow and ventilation at both sites. They also measured performance, based on power output.

Results showed that wearing a nasal strip appeared to have no effect on the switch point, or on nasal-airway resistance or nasal ventilation during high-intensity exercise, and did not enhance performance of any of the study participants, Cerny said.

Reduced nasal resistance and increased nasal ventilation during low-intensity exercise indicates the strip may prove useful to people who experience exercise-induced asthma, Cerny noted, because a person will breathe longer through the nose if resistance is lower. Nasal breathing allows for better conditioning and warming of inhaled air, a plus for asthma sufferers, he said.

Peter T. Schneider, a graduate student in the UB Department of Physical Therapy, Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, helped conduct the study.

Athletes who wear a nasal strip thinking it will increase their air intake and improve their performance are fooling themselves, a new study by exercise science researchers at the University at Buffalo shows.

University at Buffalo

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