The nose—a ridge of bone and cartilage in the middle of your face. Most people are self-conscious about their nose, but not often aware of how important it is for their lungs and overall health. The nose is essentially an air filtration system. Its passages are connected to the airways, sinuses, throat, and lungs, meaning nose congestion relief when you’re sick is more important than just feeling better.
Here’s a look at what’s in the nose:
When you inhale, air passes through two nostrils. Within, these lead to passageways, separated by cartilage known as the septum, which are further divided up by internal structures called turbinates. Air passes deeper and reaches the nasal cavity, which is located inside your head above the roof of your mouth. It also goes through the sinuses—open spaces in your cheekbones and skull above your eyes.
The lungs are where the complex exchange of oxygen from the air into the blood occurs. First, oxygen-rich air must pass through the nose, which is also your first defense against airborne germs. In fact, it has several functions beyond trapping germs in a sticky fluid called mucus (more on this later), including:
- Trapping tiny particles before they reach the lungs.
- Warming air to body temperature before it gets to your lungs.
- Adding moisture to the air to prevent dry airways.
Sounds fairly simple, doesn’t it? But there’s much more to why these functions are so important. Since they’re closely connected, nose health directly affects lung health, and, in turn, the rest of your body. A stuffy, runny nose can affect your body beyond allergies, a cold, or chest congestion. It truly is the guardian of the lungs, as put by the American Academy of Otolaryngology. Read on to better understand this connection.
Your Nose and Your Health
Turbinates are ridge-like bony structures inside the breathing passages of the nose. Also known as the nasal concha, the long, narrow structures divide the airway into four passages, increasing the surface area through which air can flow. This warms the air as it’s inhaled, heating it to temperatures up to 93°F. The turbinates also maintain a humidity level of 98%, moistening air as it enters the body and helping prevent dehydration as air is exhaled.1
On a microscopic level, the nose plays a vital role in health, as it does on a larger scale. The tissues lining the air passages are covered by mucous-producing cells containing cilia, or hair-like structures that trap particles and help move them toward the throat. Dirt particles trapped are either eliminated through sneezing or directed toward the throat. Here, they can be swallowed (along with mucus) and pass to the stomach instead of the lungs, which are far more sensitive to foreign material.
This process is important because:
- A dry mouth and throat increase the risk of infections
- Dryness enables germs and pollutants to reach the lungs, causing chest congestion.
- Cold, dry air thickens mucus secretions, slows the cilia, and reduces the amount of oxygen that can reach the bloodstream.
The warming process is important because we are usually somewhere it’s below 98.6°F or normal body temperature. We don’t usually notice the warming and humidifying effects. However, in cold weather, they manifest as a runny nose, caused by condensation within the nasal passages.
Aside from structure, the nose’s efficiency is attributed to mucus. This sticky fluid contains water, salt, and sugary proteins, or glycoproteins, that make mucus gelatinous.2 There are often white blood cells, which kill germs in the body, within mucus, along with antibodies and enzymes to recognize and destroy invaders. You can see mucus, along with the dust, dirt, and pollen collected, when you blow your nose, and feel it in your throat with a post-nasal drip.
The human body can produce anywhere from 1 to 1.5 liters of mucus every day3 (one more reason to seek nose congestion relief).
Mucus production may be disrupted by:
- Infections and allergens, which trigger an immune response sending more blood to the nasal linings. The inflammation and excess mucus production stuff your nose and impede the cleaning capacity of the cilia.
- Strong scents/chemicals, which trigger a buildup of mucus and affect the cilia. Tobacco smoke, even if inhaled second hand, can have this effect, as can a variety of irritating chemicals.
- Dryness, which thickens mucus in the nasal passages and makes it unable to get rid of germs, leaving you more prone to getting sick.
- Immune responses to sickness; when pathogens get in the body, proteins deploy immune cells and send messages to generate more mucus to fend off additional bacterial and viruses—the result is a runny nose.
The nose has other impacts on health. A stuffed nose, or having a cold or allergies, reduces the ability to smell, which, in turn, affects taste. Our sense of smell helps detect danger, from smoke or toxic gases to spoiled food.
Other effects of an unhealthy nose:
- Trouble breathing
- Lower energy level
- Reduced mental clarity
- Difficulty sleeping
Nose problems affect the lungs and the rest of your body. If particulates continuously get past the nasal cavity, your risk of developing asthma increases. Thus, a strong connection between nose and lung health exists.
Nose Health and the Impact on Your Lungs
A stuffy nose can lead to mouth breathing, which increases the risk of developing mouth and throat infections and chest congestion. The throat is the direct route to the lungs. Aside from this being the main route for breathing, there is another connection—the nasal-pulmonary reflex.
This reflex is not unlike tapping your knee and having it move involuntarily. The neural mechanism causes the lungs to close up when your nose does; if the nose opens up, the lungs open and gain more capacity. Some athletes open their noses with nasal strips. It’s possible this may not just enhance breathing but also tap into a neurological response mechanism that affects lung function.
Just like the nasal linings, the bronchial tubes that branch into the lungs from the trachea, or windpipe, are lined with cilia. These create wave-like motions that transport mucus up toward the throat, rather than downward as is the case in the nose and nasal cavity. The mucus, along with dust and germs it carries, can then be coughed up or swallowed.
There are various structures comprising the upper airways and the lungs, which are explained in more detail by the American Lung Association.
The nose and lungs are so interconnected it’s important to recognize conditions that can affect the entire body, which can provide incentives to seek nose congestion relief. Here is a look at a few that are directly related to nose health:
- Colds: Viruses can be eliminated through the nasal passages; if your nose isn’t working efficiently, cold viruses can fester and cause infections.
- Asthma: Nasal issues, such as excess mucus or inefficiencies allowing cold air to enter the body, can trigger adverse reactions in tissues already affected by chronic inflammation.
- Bronchitis: Bacteria and irritants not filtered properly can affect the throat, leading to bronchitis and increasing the chances of developing chest congestion.
- Pneumonia: Infections that reach the lungs can trigger severe reactions that progress into pneumonia, in which the lungs fill with fluid that is hard to get rid of.
- Coughing: A post nasal drip caused by sinusitis or allergic rhinitis can cause a chronic cough; respiratory infections or environmental factors may be involved.
- Sleep apnea: Swelling and inflammation in the nasal passages can cause serious obstructions; often observed as snoring, these can lead to apnea or dangerous disruptions in breathing while a person sleeps.
- Ear pain/headaches: The back of the nose is linked to the middle ear via the eustachian tubes; congestion can, therefore, cause pressure changes that lead to ear pain, headaches, and even vertigo or dizziness.
How to Keep Your Nose Healthy
The health of your nose can have trickle-down effects (literally) on the rest of your body, especially your lungs. Your daily habits can contribute to healthier breathing passages.
- Drink water (about 3.7 liters for men, and 2.7 liters for women daily) to maintain thin, fluid mucus.4
- Wear a scarf over your nose and mouth when it’s cold, to warm the air you inhale.
- Use decongestant sprays sparingly, as they can damage the cilia in your nasal linings.
- Direct nasal sprays toward the outside of nasal passages, to avoid damage to the septum.
It also helps to know when there is a problem. Your nose provides a variety of signals. In addition to feeling stuffed or having a runny nose, consider the color of your mucus. It should be clear. If it’s greenish, a higher amount of white blood cells may be present, indicating an infection; yellow or green may indicate you have a virus. White or yellow mucus can mean you’re dehydrated and should drink more water.
Fluids: When you do have a cold, extra fluids help because they thin out the mucus and help with nose congestion relief. This plays a role when you’re sick because you don’t feel like drinking—or eating, which accounts for 20% of daily fluid intake.5 A fever can cause you to lose fluid through sweating. Another factor is the drying effect of many cough and cold medicines, which further increases the need for fluids.
Honey: Excess mucus can also be managed with honey. Add it to hot tea, so you get the benefits of the steam and heat, which loosens phlegm, and honey that wraps around particles within mucus to help the body expel it.
Nasal wash: Nasal irrigation is a technique used by many people. A bulb or ear syringe or squeezable plastic bottle will do, but you can also use a neti pot. The Sierra Pulmonary & Sleep Institute offers a recipe for an isotonic salt solution, which includes water and baking soda. The idea is to squirt the solution into one nostril and have it drain out the other nostril.
A nasal wash helps move out mucus, reduce swelling in the nasal membranes, open the sinus passages, and improve airflow.
Heat: Tea, steam, and other sources of heat loosen up mucus and increase blood flow. Sniff Relief applies this concept in a different way, from the outside. It consists of a heated mask and temperature controller. Heating up to 140°F, the moldable mask secures with an adjustable strap and can provide nose congestion relief within 10 to 15 minutes.6 The effects include relief from a runny nose and sinus pressure.
Learn more about the product’s features, including a protective circuit breaker, temperature limiter, and automatic timer, by visiting us or shopping directly on the Sniff Relief website, where you can also learn more about how it can contribute to better overall nose health.