Neglecting nasal health can have uncomfortable consequences. Respiratory infections affect millions of Americans every year, and millions more suffer from nasal allergies. But if you know your nose—and how to take care of it—you can minimize respiratory symptoms and breathe easy.
Nasal passages: structure and function
Good nasal health starts with your nasal passages, which are more complex than you might think. Inside your nose, a combination of cartilage and bone called the septum separates your two nostrils. Vibrissae, the hairs that line your nostrils, trap dirt, germs and other particles as air passes into the nasal cavity,
The nasal cavity has two major regions: respiratory and olfactory. The respiratory region is the largest and contains a complex network of blood vessels warms and humidifies air before it travels to your lungs. Goblet cells secrete mucus add more humidity and trap particles that make it past the vestibule. Small hairs called cilia sweep the particles away to prevent them from moving down the respiratory tract.
The olfactory region is located at the top of the nasal cavity and is lined with cells called the olfactory epithelium. Neurons within the epithelium contain receptors that bind with scent molecules in the air. The neurons send signals to the brain that register as smells.
Nasal and facial bones make up the nasal cavity’s lateral wall. The lateral wall contains three structures of tissue and bone called turbinates with spaces known as meatus underneath. This complex network increases air temperature, raises moisture levels and affects the sound of your voice. Your sinuses and tear ducts also drain into this area, which is why your nose runs when you cry or have a respiratory infection.
Dysfunctions and diseases of the nasal cavity
Many conditions can irritate your nasal passages and nasal cavity:
- Nosebleeds are commonly caused by dry air, nose picking or excessive nose blowing. Clotting disorders and medications like aspirin or anti-clotting drugs can also give you a bloody nose.
- Infections can cause inflammation in your nasal passages. Known as rhinitis, this inflammation can spread to your sinuses and become sinusitis—a sinus infection. Symptoms include nasal stuffiness, nasal drainage, and facial pain.
- Allergies can cause inflammation, sneezing and a runny nose when your immune system reacts to particles trapped in the nasal vestibule or cavity.
- Polyps can form when you experience ongoing inflammation from infection, allergies or immune disorders. They may go away on their own or require surgery to remove. If polyps grow too large, they can block sinus drainage and increase your risk of sinus infections.
- Smell disorders can occur if medications, injuries, toxins or infections damage your olfactory receptor cells. You may also experience a diminished sense of smell if you suffer from allergies or respiratory infections.
How to keep your nasal passages healthy
Since your nasal passages are the gateway to the rest of your respiratory tract, keeping them healthy can reduce your risk of disease or minimize symptoms if you do get sick. Try these tips to improve nasal health and prevent symptoms.
To moisturize and prevent nosebleeds:
- Use a saline spray or spray gel daily
- Use a humidifier to increase indoor humidity to between 40% and 60%
- Drink water throughout the day, and avoid dehydrating beverages like soda, coffee and alcohol
- Pour boiled water into a bowl, drape a towel over your head, and breathe in the vapor. Some research suggests that adding peppermint, eucalyptus or lavender essential oils to the water may ease inflammation.†
To reduce allergy symptoms:
- Use a saline spray, nasal rinse, or neti pot to flush particles and excess mucus from your nose
- Clean your house regularly to remove dust, dirt and pet hair
- Use an air purifier to filter out allergens
- Try a reishi mushroom supplement†
To minimize inflammation:
- Remove ultra-processed and high-sugar foods from your diet
- Cut out dairy if it gives you respiratory symptoms
- Eat anti-inflammatory foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains
- Quit smoking if you smoke
- Try bromelain or quercetin supplements to relieve symptoms of sinusitis or allergies†
Many of these activities are easy to incorporate into your daily routine. Your nose will thank you for making nasal health a habit!
†These statements have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.