Over-the-counter (OTC) nasal strips or clips often relieve chronic nasal stuffiness, according to a new report.

"Consumers should try these relatively safe devices before accepting surgery," co-author Christopher Badger of the University of California Irvine School of Medicine told Reuters Health by email.

Experts say millions of Americans suffer from nasal stuffiness each year. The obstruction may be related to structural abnormalities inside the nose or to swelling caused by allergies or viruses.

To investigate how well nasal strips or clips work, Badger and colleagues searched for information on OTC mechanical nasal dilators on PubMed, Amazon and Google. They focused on healthy individuals whose breathing problems were not related to chronic runny noses or other long-term illnesses.

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As reported in JAMA Facial and Plastic Surgery, they only analyzed products available online or in production in 2015.

"We identified four basic product designs and 10 studies examining the efficacy of available devices," Badger said.

Five studies supported the use of external nasal dilator strips such as Breathe Right and AirPlus; four studies supported the use of nasal clips such as Airmax and NoZovent; one study supported the use of the nasal stents called Max-Air Nose Cones; and no studies supported the use of so-called septal stimulators.

"External nasal dilator strips and nasal clips are effective devices that should be utilized before subjecting patients to the risks of surgery," Badger advised.

However, he said, "Although OTC nasal dilators effectively relieve nasal valve obstruction, other medical or anatomical problems may contribute to breathing problems."

Therefore, patients should work with their doctors to choose the best therapy for their specific conditions.

Badger's team points out that the adhesive nasal strips cost an average of $0.40 apiece. Nasal clips are "considerably more expensive," with an average cost of $19.31 per device, but because they're reusable, they cost less over time.

Commenting by email, Dr. Julia S. Kimbell of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, told Reuters Health by email, "It is important to note that while over-the-counter nasal dilators may temporarily induce changes in nasal resistance similar to those induced by surgery, these products cannot provide the long-term treatment for nasal airway obstruction that surgery may offer."

"However, nasal dilator technology is rapidly advancing and may have significant potential" to help manage nasal obstruction in the future, she added.

The American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery advises on its website, "Try lifting the tip of your nose to see if you breathe better. If so, the external adhesive nasal strips . . . may help."