Nasal strips can help prevent bleeding in horses' lungs

Would Mr. Ed wear one? Alan Sherman, assistant trainer for California Chrome, displays an equine nasal strip. Belmont's ban on the strips was lifted Monday.
Would Mr. Ed wear one? Alan Sherman, assistant trainer for California Chrome, displays an equine nasal strip. Belmont's ban on the strips was lifted Monday. (      AP)
Posted: May 21, 2014

They are the equine equivalent of those flexible strips that people wear on their noses to prevent snoring.

With racehorses, the goal is to prevent bleeding in the lungs, ultimately allowing the animals to run faster. But do nasal strips work?

Racing officials agreed Monday to allow the strips on horses competing in the Belmont Stakes on June 7 - including California Chrome, who wore the strips while winning the first two legs of the Triple Crown.

Yet the announcement was accompanied by a statement from a state veterinarian that the strips "do not enhance equine performance."

Others say they should help - indirectly. There is little hard data on the speed of horses using the strips, but for those that suffer from the bleeding condition, the strips should allow them to run at their full potential, much like an asthmatic human runner who uses an inhaler, said Rose Nolen-Walston, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.

"The short answer is yes, they help a little bit," Nolen-Walston said.

Either way, the consensus seems to be that the strips are not harmful for animals. The bleeding condition is called exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, which refers to the bursting of capillaries in the lungs, Nolen-Walston said.

This bleeding occurs from the combination of elevated blood pressure during a race and the negative pressure the lungs create when sucking in air, she said. In other words, there is higher blood pressure pushing out from inside the vessels, along with the negative pressure pulling on the vessels from outside.

The strips work by holding the animal's nasal passages open, so that the horse's lungs do not have to generate as much negative pressure to suck in air. With the strips, in other words, the lungs do not have to work as hard, and the bleeding can be reduced by up to 50 percent, said Howard Erickson, an emeritus professor at Kansas State University's College of Veterinary Medicine.

Erickson said the strips were similar to the drug called Lasix in their ability to reduce bleeding.

Flair, the company that makes the strips, has posted on its website the results of eight studies of horses wearing the strips. While most concern technical measurements of things such as bleeding and blood gases, one looked at the ultimate outcome: winning.

According to the website, a Florida study found that horses wearing the strips had a winning percentage 3.4 percent higher than those not wearing them. No details were available about whether the experiment was a controlled, randomized study.

California Chrome is 6 for 6 with the nasal strip, 2 for 6 without.


tavril@phillynews.com

215-854-2430

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