For athletic horses sporting increasingly popular nasal strips, the phrase "winning by a nose" carries new meaning. Research studies evaluating these accessories' efficacy, however, have produced mixed results.

"The proprietary FLAIR nasal strip has been extensively studied and has several distinct benefits for exercising horses," said Howard H. Erickson, DVM, PhD, emeritus professor of physiology and history of veterinary medicine at the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine in Manhattan. "At least eight studies have been conducted over the past decade to show exactly how nasal strips work, and there are more than a dozen publications that support the effectiveness of (nasal strips) in reducing exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage."

Equine nasal strips are designed to prevent the soft tissues of the respiratory tract from "caving in" and decreasing airway diameter as the horse inhales.

"The premise of the nasal strip is that the three plastic support members apply a springlike force to gently support the soft tissue overlying the nasal passages during inspiration, particularly where the nasal passages are not supported by bone," Erickson explained.

Some of the key findings of the aforementioned studies supporting the use of nasal strips for athletic horses include:

  • The strip has been shown to significantly decrease the "work" of breathing (as evidenced by decreased oxygen consumption);
  • Horses wearing a nasal strip have been found to have significantly decreased bleeding into the lungs (exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, or EIPH), compared to when they did not wear the strip; and
  • The improvement in EIPH when wearing strips was found to be equivalent to that noted when the same horses were treated with the diuretic furosemide (Salix), the current treatment of choice for EIPH.

Despite evidence indicating nasal strips can be beneficial to equine athletes, other studies have yielded conflicting results. One such study, for example, found that nasal strips had no impact on either gas exchange or EIPH in Thoroughbreds.

Additionally, nasal strips are not yet universally endorsed or supported by all states and/or equestrian organizations. This fact was brought to light during the weeks leading up to the 2012 Belmont Stakes when New York racing stewards made it clear that then-Triple Crown hopeful I'll Have Another would not be allowed to wear the nasal strip he wore while winning both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, per rules set forth by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board in 2001.

Nonetheless, the nasal strip has recently become a popular accessory for horses in the wide variety of equestrian disciplines that permit use, such as barrel racing and three-day eventing.

"The equine nasal strip is approved by most U.S. and international sport horse and regulatory bodies, including the Fédération Equestre Internationale," noted Howard H. Erickson, DVM, PhD, emeritus professor of physiology and history of veterinary medicine at the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine. "Although certain European countries, Hong Kong, and Japan do not permit the strip, the nasal strip was made available at the request of the United States Equestrian Federation to all three-day event competitors at the 2008 Olympic Games in Hong Kong."

As is suggested for many "alternative therapies," it's advisable to only select nasal strips produced by reliable manufacturers who have scientific studies supporting their particular strip and who do not rely on testimonials to promote their product.

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.

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