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Breathing and respiratory health

Your Nose Knows: Why Keeping It Healthy Is Key

Your Nose Knows: Why Keeping It Healthy Is Key

It’s one of our vital organs and the main gate to our respiratory system, but we literally overlook our nose every day. Not only does our nose help us breathe but the small hairs on the mucous membranes in the nose work to filter out particles in the air before it enters our lungs.

The nose also acts as our body’s air-temperature system, warming and humidifying the air before it arrives into our lungs to help prevent dryness in the lung lining and bronchial tubes. According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, some 18,000 to 20,000 litres of air pass through the nose of an adult each day. That’s a lot of air going into our lungs daily!

Because of this essential connection between the nose and lungs, ignoring nasal symptoms such as congestion, sneezing, runny nose or thick discharge for too long could potentially aggravate problems in the lungs.

“Always pay attention to what’s happening in your nose,” says Dr. Paul Keith, president of the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology and an allergist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont. A cold shouldn’t last past two weeks, he says, and if congestion continues, there could be an underlying problem. “Typically, if you have prolonged congestion at night, that’s a sign of inflammation due to allergic rhinitis or hay fever.” He says untreated nasal symptoms can lead to sinusitis, which can be very uncomfortable.

It makes scents

Nasal congestion and inflammation can also reduce our sense of smell, which Dr. Keith notes clearly affects our sense of taste. “Not only can it be difficult to smell with inflammation in the nose but food doesn’t taste the same.” In fact, a sense of smell is responsible for 80% of what we taste, say experts.

Studies have also shown that reduced or loss of smell and taste has a detrimental effect on a person’s quality of life. Patients frequently reported an increase in their use of salt and sugar to compensate for their lack of smell and taste.

Breathing easier

A properly functioning nose will also make you less prone to breathe through your mouth, which can cause dryness and increase your risk of mouth and throat infections. Mouth breathing also risks putting pollution and germs ‒ as well as unregulated, dry cold air ‒ directly into your lungs.

In times of stress, breathing in and out through your nose can help you take deeper, fuller breaths, which stimulates the lower lung to distribute greater amounts of oxygen throughout the body. The upper lung, stimulated by chest and mouth breathing, can prompt a fight-or-flight reaction. But the lower lung is rich with parasympathetic nerve receptors associated with calming the body and mind.