Category : Nose
I am that little hill that rises from the center of your face – your nose. You worry about your eyes, ears and digestive tract but tend to think of me as a nuisance. I water on winter days, sneeze at the wrong time, clog with a cold, tend to get smashed in accidents. There are colorful and poetic allusions to other facial features eyes, ears, lips but not for me. I am kept to the grindstone, one pays through me, and nothing is plainer than the nose on a face.
But I am an important organ in your body, and do numerous jobs that you are unaware of. When you go to sleep on your left side, my left nostril will gradually become enlarged. In about two hours I send out a silent signal–I do not want to awaken you-which causes you to turn over. This is one of several trigger mechanisms that lead to movement, preventing your muscles from being cramped in the morning.
Automatically, I sniff your food before you eat, to protect you from spoiled food that might poison you. Much of your pleasure in eating comes through me. Let me smell a broiling steak and I crank up salivary glands that set your mouth to watering and start your digestive juices. As you have noticed, when my capabilities are blunted by sickness, as by a cold, your food is tasteless and you lose appetite and weight. Without my stimulus you become a fussy eater.
Another thing, you may have a pleasing, deep voice. In part you should thank me, because, I contribute some resonance. If you pinch your nostrils when you speak and possibly you will understand the difference I make.
Architecturally, I have nothing to boast about. I am sandwiched in between the roof of your mouth and your brain. In reality, I am two noses, since a septum, or partition, divides me in two. Above your mouth I have a rather cavernous interior, my workroom. I also have small hollows in the bones on each side in the cheeks, in the frontal bone over the eyes, in the wall between me and the eyes, and at the back of my main cavity. These hollow spaces make up my eight sinuses. They contribute some of the moisture I need to humidify air, make a slight contribution to voice quality and lighten your skull, but mostly they cause trouble. Bacteria slip in to cause infection and blockage of the narrow channels that empty into my main passages. Then you are in for painful, headache misery.
One of my major tasks is cleaning and conditioning the air for your lungs. Each day I must process about 500 cubic feet of air- a small roomful. You may be skiing on a frigid, dry day, but your lungs are not interested in dry,zero air.They want about what one would find on a humid summer day-75 to 80 percent saturated, temperatures in the 90s. They demand air almost totally free of bacteria and cleansed of grit, smoke and other irritants. The air conditioner for a medium sized room is as large as a small trunk. My air-conditioning system is compressed into a tiny area only a few centimeters long.
For the humidifying job I secrete about a liter of moisture a day. Mostly this is sticky mucus, produced by the spongy, red membrane that lines my passages. While the rough cleaning job is done by hairs in your nostrils, it is the mucus that does the major work, acting as a kind of flypaper to trap bactria and particles that get past the hairs. Naturally, I cannot permits this flim od mucus to stagnate.In a few hours there would be total pollution. So every 20 minutes I produce a clean new mucous blanket.
To remove the old mucus, I have an army of microscopic brooms called cilia. These minute hairs rapidly whip the film back to the throst for swallowing and then slowly settle back to their original positions. Strong stomach acid destroys most swallowed bacteria. My tireless little cilia make about ten sweeping stroke a second. You of course, is unaware of this activity, which goes on day and night. But on a cold day you become aware of it, since cold partially paralyses my cilia and causes overproduction of mucus. Then, instead of being swept back to the throat, the moisture dribbles out the front and you get a runny nose.
Besides mechanical trapping, I have another protection against bacteria – a microbe slayer called Lysozyme, the same stuff that protects your eyes from infection. It makes me one of the cleanest of all organs, in fact so clean, that to a large extent nose surgery can be performed without antibiotics.
Warming the air that you breathe is also quite a task. I accomplish most of this with my turbinates. Three of these little chips of bone, the biggest about an inch Long, protrude from the sidewalls of each of my nostrils. In reality they are small radiators. They are covered with erectile tissue with a relatively enormous blood supply- the steam for my radiators. Blood usually flows from tiny arteries, through a capillary bed, and into veins. In my turbinates the capillaries are associated with the tiny caverns that swell. This happens when you breathe in cold air- it swells up and provide greater warming surface.
My other big job, of course, is detection of odors. You, like most of the people, can recognize 4000 different scents. The really sensitive nose can go up to about 10000. Since life rarely depends on me, my great skills are subdued, unused. Had you been born deaf and blind you would have appreciated my enormous as a key tool of identification I would have been able to recognize people, houses and rooms by scent alone.
How do I detect odors? On the roof of each of my nasal cavities I have a patch of yellow-brown tissue smaller than a postage stamp. In each patch I have roughly ten million receptor cells, and six to eight tiny sensory hairs that project from each cell. All this apparatus is connected to your brain, three centimeters away.
That is merely the setup. But it does not explain how you identify the smell of a tandoori. We have only theories. It is known that anything which possess smell, throws off molecules. Hot onion soup throws them off in plenty, cold steel hardly any at all. One theory suggests that my receptor sites can distinguish the sizes and shapes of different molecules. The difference is somehow registered, and a wisp of electricity is generated and dispatched to the brain. The electrical signal is familiar to your brain. The brain arrives at a verdict: Jasmine, it says, or Rose or burning rubber.
Actually, it is not all that simple. It is possible that there are primary odors, just as there are three primary colors. With the brain as a palette, odors are blended into a familiar scent. If I am overwhelmed by a particular odor, after a short time I can no longer detect it.After the first few whiffs,your wife hardly notices the perfume she is wearing. If you get a job in a tannery, glue works or rubber factory, you are oppressed by the ordors at the first.Soon, however,you are so worn out with those particular harsh smells that you hardly notice them. Yet your sensitivity to other odors remains. Even in the stench of a tannery a rose smells as sweet as ever.
As one of the body’s most exposed organs, it is little wonder that I am the target for a wide spectrum of ailments. Certain microbes notably those of syphilis and tuberculosis–can attack my cartilage and destroy my shape. Polyps sprout on my mucous membrane–little “mushrooms” that vary from pea to grape size. They can block air passages or sinus channels to cause a variety of grief.
Certain allergy causing agents, tobacco smoke and dust irritate my mucous membranes, causing them to swell and to produce excess fluid,which drips into the throat. This is postnasal drip. Or air passage may be inflamed and shut by a cold. You try to blast them open with a mighty blow. It could be dangerous. It can force infection into my sinuses, or into the middle ear via the eustachian tubes. Or you may resort to nose drops/sprays of various kinds. You should be cautious about these. Drops/sprays may cause temporary shrinkage initially but later greater swelling than was originally present. This is why experts warn against nose drops because they end by complicating rather than solving the problem.
As you grow beyond 45 my sharpness starts declining. Coffee does not smell quite as good as it once did and other odors are not quite as noxious. All this is perfectly normal. It might have been a handicap at one point in man’s development, but no longer. Until I warm and cleanse your last breath I will continue to do my jobs for you. And in defense of my lowly status I might add that in your old age I will do my job far better than your eyes and ears will do theirs.