Our least appreciated organ that’s responsible for so many big things
Our noses are generally the subject of admiration and criticism. Some love their noses, others would change it if they could.
But it’s easy to forget that your nose, along with your eyes and mouth, don’t just make up your visual identity. And there may be an argument for loving it the way it is.
Your nose in particular is one of the most complex and elegant organs in your body. It performs critical life functions and really deserves huge props for its role in keeping you alive and safe – and quite often satisfied.
It is even responsible for your sex life. (It’s true).
The nose is the first organ in your upper respiratory system and one of the main reasons you both survive and thrive.
Your nose contains your breath
You’re likely already appreciative of your breath, but it’s kind of a big deal as your nose and mouth are the path of air entering and exiting your lungs.
In normal everyday breathing, your nose is the primary pathway.
Even during exercise where mouth breathing becomes more dominant, some air also still passes through your nose
Although the mouth is a bigger tube, people feel more uncomfortable if their noses are blocked or congested. That is how important your nose really is.
Nasal breathing is also most critical in newborns who breathe through their noses almost all the time. It is a unique feature related to the configuration of their throats that allows them to breathe and suckle at the same time, without choking.
This doesn’t happen in older children or adults. We have to stop breathing to swallow. Something to appreciate the next time you aren’t getting air into your nose for a few seconds.
Your nose humidifies the air you breathe
Your nose processes the air you breathe, preparing it for your lungs and throat which do not tolerate dry air well.
As inhaled air passes through your nose, it is moisturised and humidified thanks to a multiple -layer air pathway with three sets of turbinates ( called upper, middle and lower conchae). These are long bony structures covered with a layer of tissue that expand and contract.
This path is where drainage and moisture is regulated. If you have a dry throat, it means that the air in this passageway may not have been humidified.
This is also the place where the tone of your voice is shaped as air passes through and the passage expands or contracts.
Your nose cleans the air you breathe
The air we breathe has all kinds of stuff in it – from oxygen and nitrogen to dust, pollen, pollution, allergens, smoke, bacteria, viruses, small bugs and countless other things. Your nose helps clean it all.
On the surface of the nasal tissues in your turbinates, there are cells with tiny hair-like appendages called cilia that trap the bad debris in the air so it doesn’t get into your lungs. Instead the debris sits in the mucous and is eventually pushed into your throat and swallowed.
This is extreme beneficial since our stomachs tolerate handling bad debris much better than our lungs do.
Your nose regulates the temperature of your breath
In the same way your throat and lungs don’t like dirty air, they also don’t like the air that is too cold or too hot.
The passing of the air through the nose allows the air to become more like your body temperature, which is better tolerated by your tissues.
Warming cool air in your nose is more common than cooling warm air. That is because humans spend much more of their time in environments below body temperature – 37 degrees Celsius-than above it.
The runny nose you get in cold weather is the best example of this warming and humidifying effect. It comes from the condensation of the moisture in your nose when the cold air gets in.
Your nose protects you through smell
High in your nose are a large number of nerve cells that detect odours. In order to smell, the air we breathe must be pulled all the way up to come in contact with these nerves.
Smell plays a key role in taste. We have four primary tastes: bitter, sour, sweet, and salty. All of the refinements in taste are related to smell. That’s why people feel that food is tasteless when there ability to smell is decreased.
Smell and taste are necessary for safety. We need our smell to detect smoke, spoiled food, and some toxic poisons or gases.
Whenever we have a cold or allergies, it’s hard for air to get to these receptors, so people notice a decreased ability to smell.
Those who have completely lost their sense of smell need to have alarms for these gases and must pay closer attention to what they eat.
Smell is important in identification, memory and emotion
Smell partners with your olfactory bulb located in the front of your brain, just above your nasal cavity. It’s the part of your brain’s limbic system and is associated with memory. We identify other people by the memory of what their personal smell is.
This is how it works: You might remember someone specifically when you smell a certain perfume ,soap or similar body odour. If it triggers your memory and you get nostalgic and emotional, that’s because the limbic system is associated with the control of the emotional part of your brain.
Your nose helps find a mate
It’s amazing how many of our body functions are directed towards sexual activity and reproduction.
Not only does your olfactory system trigger memory, but your nose plays a critical role when paired with your olfactory system in your perception of sex.
The characteristic smell of a person’s perfume, cologne or the scent of their shampoo is important to sexual arousal. The smell of human perspiration also has a direct effect on sexual receptors in the brain. And the loss of smell correlates with decreased sexual drive
Another interesting and widely debated area is the impact of pheromones. These are very important to reproduction in animals, as well as on human sexuality and stimulation.
Your nose shape the sound of your voice
What we hear when people speak and sing is in large part related to the resonating structures of the throat and nose.
Your voice is produced in the larynx but that sound is really a buzzing sound. The richness of the sound is determined by how the sound is processed above the larynx, which occurs in your nose and throat.
This is the same principle that separates the grand piano from a child’s toy piano. The nasal voice we hear in someone with a cold and allergies is due to the loss of this nasal resonation since a can’t pass through the nose.
Your nose and sinuses are a powerful duo
Sinuses also play a part in the resonance of your voice.
Your sinuses are air-filled structures in your own head that make your head lighter and probably played an important role in allowing us to become upright. They also serve as air cushion shock absorbers that help protect your brain and eyes.
The partnership between your nose and sinuses help control the amount of nitric oxide in your body and in your lungs. They also play a huge role in your immune functionality
The next time you look in the mirror, you may want to consider a new respect for your incredible nose.
Acknowledgement. Dr Michael Benninger. Cleveland Clinic.