Everything You Should Know About Your Nose

We blow them, poke them, pierce them, and even put our noses under the knife — but they could use some love, too.

nose

Ready to learn way more about your nose than you ever thought you would know? Then let's get started.

1. Sinuses are a system of hollow air pockets that connect to the nose. (And they can be painful when there's an infection.) The sinuses are lined with a mucus-producing membrane that helps trap dust and other particles you breathe in, and they also decrease the weight of your skull so you have a lighter load to support.

2. Mucus membranes line the nasal cavity, secreting mucus that traps particles, bacteria, and viruses before they can reach the respiratory system. If the nose is aggravated (say, by cigarette smoke, allergies, or viruses), the membrane can become inflamed and swollen, and you may feel stuffed up.

3. Three turbinates are small, shelflike structures made of bone and soft tissue — direct inhaled air while also acting as your nose's central humidifier. They add moisture and warmth to the air as it flows by to keep the lungs and bronchial tubes from getting irritated.

4. Nares, also known as nostrils, lead to the nasal passage. Just inside the nares are hairs that help filter out larger airborne debris.

The Vitals

1 liter: About how much mucus your nose produces daily (seriously), most of which you end up swallowing.

100 mph: The speed at which particles and irritants shoot out of the nose when you sneeze.

19,000 liters: Approximately how much air passes through your nose each day en route to your lungs.

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Why You Can't Taste Stuff When You're Stuffy

Your tongue detects five basic tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and savory. It's your sniffer that's responsible for the nuances of flavor, distinguishing raspberries from strawberries or pretzels from potato chips. When you chew, food particles are broken down, and their odors travel upward to the roof of the nose. There, millions of smell receptor cells sense them and send a message to the brain via the olfactory nerve, letting you recognize the flavors of your dish. But if you're stuffed up and sick, swollen membranes and mucus block these particles from reaching the roof of the nose, and everything on your plate will state tasting, well, tasteless. (Try holding your nose while you're eating and you'll be amazed by the difference.)

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It's Your Body's Purifier

The nose plays the role of a tough-guy bouncer, and allergens, dust, and other riffraff are definitely not on the VIP list. Mucus traps these particles before they reach the lungs, and at that point, either you blow the snotty mixture into a tissue, or hairlike structures called cilia in the airways move it to the throat to be swallowed. But when you're stuffed up (and have to breathe through the mouth), this riffraff is sent straight to the easily irritated lungs, which is why frequent congestion should be treated.

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What's That Smell?

Ask a woman. We have a sensory edge here, possibly because our olfactory bulb —

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All About the Runny Nose

The Color of Your Mucus Is a Health Cue: When you're healthy, mucus is clear and thin. But if your body identifies a viral or bacterial threat, white blood cells are sent to the nose to help defeat it. As they accumulate, mucus starts to thicken and turn a yellow or greenish color. Yes, it looks icky, but it's a sign that your immune system is fighting back!

Cold Temps Call for More Moisture: Since the nose is tasked with warming and humidifying air before it hits the lungs, reflexes in the mucous membrane work overtime to produce extra moisture on chilly, dry days and you're left swiping drips as the mercury starts to drip.

A Good Sob Session Can Make Your Nose Stream: When tears are produced, some of the fluid spills down your face, but most of it actually streams into the corner of the eye. From there, the tears are funneled to the nasal cavity, leaving you blubbery and blowing your nose.

SOURCES: Erich Voigt, MD, clinical associate professor in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center and Director of the Division of General Otolaryngology; Jeffrey Terrell, MD, ear, nose and throat specialist, University of Michigan Health System; Michael Benninger, MD, otolaryngologist and Chairman of the Head and Neck Institute, Cleveland Clinic.

This story originally appeared in the January/February 2017 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.

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