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The Nose - A Virtual Tour

Overview
Breathing
Filtering

Smell
Aesthetics
Where To Seek Treatment


Contributed by Singapore General Hospital

Overview

How many functions of the nose can you list? Breathing, filtering of potential harmful substances, smell, humidification of the inhaled air, and…sex appeal? The nose is a complex structure and some of its functions are necessary for life while others are useful.

Breathing

While an occasional episode of nasal obstruction may be a nuisance in adults, it can be life threatening in the first few weeks of life. Newborns must breathe through their nose. Newborns are called "obligatory nose breathers". Newborns born with a congenital condition called choanal atresia do not have an opening at the back of their nose. These newborns cannot breathe unless they cry (and breathe through their mouth).

When the adenoids and tonsils are large, patients become mouth breathers. This is common in children.

Large tonsils and adenoids cause the following problem in children :

  • Airway obstruction -snoring, disturbance of sleep, feeding difficulty
  • Recurrent infection which causes enlargement in the first place
  • Recurrent sinus and ear infection
  • Disturbance of facial skeletal growth

Parents should be reminded that normal people breathe and eat at the same time. Children with large tonsils and adenoids cannot do this. They pause between eating to catch their breath. For these children, eating is a special chore. They take a longer time to finish their meals. They become easily tired at mealtime and in some cases, do not grow normally.

For some children, an acute infection of the tonsils can cause a complete obstruction of the upper airway and may requiring emergency hospitalizations and even emergency surgery.

For adults, chronic nasal obstruction can be caused by:

  • Deviated (crooked) nasal septum
  • Swollen turbinates
  • Sinusitis
  • Nasal polyps
  • Nasal allergy
  • Tumours

    Filtering

    The nose is the first line of defense from inhaled contaminants, which can be non-biological and biological. While non-biological contaminants are what comes to mind, it is the biological contaminants that pose a greater threat to the body. Foreign proteins, bacteria and viruses pose far greater threat to the body than particulate or chemical contaminants. Thus, the lining of the nose is like a quiet factory that performs the function of cleaning the nose, filtering dirt particles and preventing infection.

    Failure of this function can be caused by:

    • Immune disease, including nasal allergies
    • Destruction of normal nasal airway by infection
    • Radiation
    • Surgery
    • Humidification of inhaled air

    The nose humidifies the air we breathe in. It performs this function so well that by the time the air reaches the lungs, the air is already humidified. When the climate is dry, mouth breathers who sleep with their mouth open experience dryness of the mouth in the morning because the mouth has to function as a humidifier. Humidification keeps the lung lining moist and prevent thick mucus from clogging up the smaller air passages.

    Smell

    When smell-producing chemicals come into contact with the upper portion of the nasal passage, the smell is carried by nerve fibres through the roof of the nose into the brain.

    Loss of smell can be caused by any interruption of this pathway by :

    • Infection
    • Allergy
    • Obstruction of the nose
    • Nerve injury or degeneration
    • Tumours

    The function of smell may not seem important in humans but is almost necessary for survival in some animals. The economic consequences of loss of smell can be devastating to occupations such as those in the fragrance and the food industry.

    Perfumes and Fragrance add sex appeal and the cosmetic and food fragrance is a multi-billion dollar industry recognise this. Thus, smell is not a trivial function and its role as a secondary sexual function cannot be dismissed.

    Aesthetics

    The central role of the nose in facial appearance is undisputed. An aesthetically pleasing nose is certainly a plus and enhances the sexual appeal of the person. Plastic surgery of the nose is a very common surgical procedure in Asia and around the world.

    So, we were not kidding when we say that the nose has a sexual function!!!


    Need indepth information ?

    Access our Conditions & Treatments sections for related topics on Nose Cancer (Nasopharynx Cancer).

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