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Allergy, Asthma: The Normal Nose  Previous Next

The Normal Nose

by: Stacey M Kerr MD

The nose is an elegant structure, beautifully designed for essential and life supporting functions. It is not simply an air intake port. When the nose works well, it filters and humidifies the air we breathe - no small task in today’s environment. The nose is the first major defense the human body has to protect us from pollutants, bacteria, and viruses. Without this filtering mechanism millions of impurities would be allowed into our fragile lung tissues, wreaking havoc and damaging the gas exchanging membranes deep within our chests. Without the oxygen humidifying mechanism in our nose, our throats and airways would be dry and irritated all the time, and our moist lungs would dry out like a sponge left in the sun.  

 

What we see of the nose is simply its outer covering and the two intake portals.  The outer shape creates the illusion that the nose goes up. However, the nose really goes straight back into your face. You can safely test this by getting a cotton swab and putting it inside your nose. Try to insert it straight up. You can’t find anywhere up there to advance more than a fraction of an inch. Now aim back towards your ears. There you will quickly find the nasal passage tunneling straight back!

 

Even when we are forced to breathe through our mouths our bodies attempt to moisturize the incoming air by using the tongue as a makeshift humidifier. The nose, when healthy and clear, is a much more efficient and effective air conditioner than the tongue.  The nose wants to expose a maximum amount of its intake to the air conditioning apparatus, so it is divided into two wind tunnels (nostrils) separated by a thin layer of cartilage called the septum.  The septum divides only the front of the nose into two nostrils – the back of the nose is a single chamber. Each nostril increases the area over which the air must pass with rolls of tissue on the sides (turbinates).  The air we inhale swirls and dances over these turbinates, picking up moisture along the way. 

 

As the air swirls, it also passes across tiny little hairs built into the lining of the nose.  These hairs act as efficient filters, capturing particles before they can reach the tender lungs and cause damage. The hairs near the outside of the nostrils are often coarse, but the ones further back are small and almost microscopic. When allowed to move freely and not gummed up by debris and mucus, these tiny hairs (cilia) do an excellent job of cleaning the air we breathe and protecting our lungs. 

 

Sometimes an irritant gets caught on the turbinates or in the cilia that line the nose. When this happens we start to sneeze, our nose may itch, we get more mucus production than we are used to, and our nose swells up on the inside. All of these problems are really part of the design our body has to protect itself from impurities. We can help the nose filter more effectively by rinsing this air conditioning system free of debris.  

When we use a Nasopure bottle to rinse the nose, the solution goes in one nostril, flows across the turbinates and rinses them clean. It then flows past the tiny hole that drains the inner ear into the back of the throat, clearing that opening so the ear can work as it should.  Behind the septum, the solution then crosses over to the other nostril and washes that side of the nose on its way out again. When it comes out the opposite nostril it brings with it much of the mucus and debris that has been collected by the air filtering system

Stacey Marie Kerr MD is a board certified family physician in northern California. She graduated from UCDavis in 1989 and is a member of the California and the American Academy of Family Physicians. She provide personalized answers to medical questions through her website: the-doctors-inn.com

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