Nasal flaring

Definition

Nasal flaring occurs when the nostrils widen while breathing. It is often a sign of trouble breathing.

Alternative Names

Flaring of the alae nasi (nostrils); Nostrils - flaring

Considerations

Nasal flaring is seen mostly in infants and younger children.

Any condition that causes difficulty breathing can cause nasal flaring. Many causes of nasal flaring are not serious, but some can be life threatening.

In young infants, nasal flaring can be a sign of respiratory distress. This is a serious lung condition that prevents enough oxygen from getting to the lungs and into the blood.

Causes

Nasal flaring may be caused by any of the following:

Home Care

Seek emergency help right away if you or your child has signs of a breathing difficulty.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if:

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

The provider will perform a physical exam and ask about the symptoms and medical history. Questions may include:

The provider will listen carefully to the breath sounds. This is called auscultation.

Tests that may be done include:

Oxygen may be given if there is a breathing problem.

References

Rodrigues KK. Roosevelt GE. Acute inflammatory upper airway obstruction (croup, epiglottitis, laryngitis, and bacterial tracheitis). In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 412.

Sarnaik AP, Clark JA, Heidemann SM. Respiratory distress and failure. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 89.


Review Date: 6/7/2022
Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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