Aug 13 2011

Trouble Breathing on the Bike? Then Here’s a Nos(e)trum to Consider

If you caught any of the video coverage of the Tour de France, you may have noticed that many of the racers had what looked like Band-Aids plastered across their noses. This wasn’t the aftermath of an epidemic of faceplants—though there were plenty of those, too. The “Band-Aids” were, in fact, Breathe Right nasal strips, or something very like them. These are small adhesive-backed elastic bands, designed to flare the nostrils and make breathing easier. And wonder of wonders, they actually do what the advertising copy promises. How do I know? I use them myself.

Once upon a time, when I was young and foolish, I tried skiing through a tree. The experiment didn’t go well, and my nose absorbed some of the not inconsiderable impact. Now, many years later, I still have trouble breathing through my nose. This difficulty is exacerbated by high pollen counts, wood smoke, dusty dirt roads, and exhaust pollution, so there’s really no escape, and the problem becomes particularly acute when I’m riding my bike. City or country, it makes no difference. When I leave the heavy traffic behind, lawnmowers riding the range lie in wait for me. Decongestants help, but not for long, and the side effects are annoying. Often the cure is worse than the disease. Breathe Right strips, however, give me a measure of relief without any of the drawbacks of medication. It’s a good bargain.

Here’s a close-up:

Breathe Right Nasal Strip

It looks a little like a small Band-Aid, and in fact Breathe Right strips are packaged and sold like those familiar first-aid items…

Breathe Right Nasal Strip

And they go on pretty much the same way. Just clean your face to remove any accumulated grime and oil—this is especially important if you’re apply a strip in mid-ride!—then dry the skin and stick the Breathe Right strip in place. Take some care in placing it. You want the center of the strip to rest well below the bridge of your nose, with the ends falling just above the flaring bulb on either side. (The package contains a handy illustrated leaflet to help you get the position exactly right.) Size matters, too. If your nose is listed along with other prominent local landmarks in tourist brochures, you’ll probably need Large Breath Rights. The rest of us can rub along with Small/Medium. Most HyperMart pharmacies stock both sizes.

Two caveats: Don’t rip Breath Right’s off at ride’s end. The adhesive is tenacious. It’s better by far to ease them off gently in the shower. And read the package carefully if you have a latex allergy. The standard (“Tan”) strips contain latex, though there’s a “Clear” version that claims to be safer for “sensitive skin.” You’re on your own here, I’m afraid. I’ve always used the Tan strips.


There’s not much more to say. Breathe Rights do the job, at least for me. The stickum holds tight even through long rides on hot, humid days, and they keep my sunglasses from slipping down my nose, too. I carry a dozen or so in my handlebar bag at all times, along with some alcohol swabs to clean my skin. That way I can be sure I always breathe easy, even when slogging down a dirt road right after a pack of SUVs has stirred things up.

Will Breathe Rights make you a force to be reckoned with in next year’s Tour? Probably not. But if you’ve set your sights a little lower, and if your nose is still holding you back, they’re worth trying.

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