How the Human Nose Works

How the Human Nose Works | Dr. Ali Ghahary

Your nose is considered the first part of your respiratory system, and it plays much more of a vital role than you might realize. Not only does it act like a filtration system to keep things like germs, dust and other potentially harmful particles from reaching your body, but it also affects two of your five senses: smell and taste.

Anatomy of the Nose
Anatomy of the Nose

The nose first begins at the nostrils (also sometimes referred to as the nares.) Your nostrils are lined with hair that helps filter out the aforementioned harmful debris and connects to the nasal passages which are made up of three turbinates. The turbinates consist of bone and soft tissue, and they are responsible for warming and moistening the air we breathe in, also protecting the lungs and bronchial tubes from becoming irritated. If any harmful particles do happen to make it past the nostrils, the mucous membrane that lines your nasal cavity helps to trap those particles, allergens, and bacteria. It’s also possible, however, for the mucous membranes to become irritated or inflamed, and you may then develop nasal congestion or find that you’re sneezing.

From there are the hollow air pockets within your nasal cavity known as the sinuses. The sinuses consist of four main parts: The maxillary sinuses, which are located in your cheeks; the sphenoid and ethmoid sinuses, which are located between the nose and eyes; and the frontal sinus, which is located in the lower centre of your forehead.

It’s not uncommon for the sinuses to become infected. A sinus infection can be the result of a complication following a common cold, nasal polyps (abnormal growths in the sinuses), or a deviated septum. It’s also not uncommon to develop a toothache as a result of a sinus infection, which is usually cause from sinus pressure. When you’re healthy, your mucus should be clear and thin. When you have a sinus infection, however, your mucus will usually appear green or yellow in colour and be thick. You may also notice that the mucus you’re blowing out is tinged with blood. If you are blowing out mucus that isn’t clear or have any other symptoms associated with a sinus infection, such as sinus pain/pressure and congestion, the first thing your doctor will typically do is refer you for an X-ray. This will allow for a clear view of your sinuses and confirm whether or not an infection is present. If a sinus infection is confirmed, you will likely be prescribed a course of antibiotics along with a steroid nasal spray (such as Nasonex.) You can also benefit from using a saline rinse to keep the nasal passages moist. If you are congested, there are also nasal sprays on the market that can provide you temporary relief. However, it is important that you avoid using these particular decongestant sprays for longer than the recommended timeframe on the packaging, or you may wind up with rebound congestion – which can worsen your symptoms.

If you have recurring sinus infections, you may need to be referred to an Otolaryngologist. An Otolaryngologist is a type of doctor who specializes in the ear, nose and throat, and performs various surgical procedures such as tonsillectomies, as well as surgeries to remove nasal polyps and fix deviated septums.