The Nose - Friend & Foe

Last Editorial Review: 4/3/2002

We thought it might be helpful to review the purpose of the prominent area in front of our faces that can so frequently cause such grief to allergy sufferers. Hay fever (allergic rhinitis) is one of the most common forms of allergy.

For more information about hay fever, please visit our article on Allergic Rhinitis.

-- Medical Editor,

What is the purpose of the nose?

The purpose of the nose is to warm, clean, and humidify the air you breath. In addition, it helps you to smell and taste. A normal person will produce about two quarts of fluid each day (mucus), which aids in keeping the respiratory tract clean and moist. Tiny microscopic hairs (cilia) line the surfaces helping to brush away particles. Eventually this mucus blanket is moved to the back of the throat where it is unconsciously swallowed. This entire process is closely regulated by several body systems.

The nose is divided into two passage ways by a partition called the septum. Protruding into each breathing passage are bony projections, called turbinates, which help to increase the surface area of the inside of the nose. There are three turbinates on each side of the nose (inferior, middle, superior). The sinuses are four paired air filled chambers which empty into the nasal cavity. Their purpose is not really known.

What is rhinitis?

Rhinitis is inflammation of the inner lining of the nose. Allergic rhinitis is characterized by an itchy/runny nose, sneezing, and nasal congestion. Other allergic symptoms include itchy ears and throat, Eustachian tube problems, red/watery eyes, cough, fatigue/loss of concentration/lack of energy from loss of sleep, and headaches or facial tenderness. Rhinitis can be either acute or chronic. Seasonal allergic rhinitis (also called hay fever) is usually caused by pollen in the air, and sensitive patients have symptoms during peak times during the year. Perennial allergic rhinitis, a type of chronic rhinitis is a year-around problem, and is often caused by indoor allergens, such as dust and animal dander. Symptoms tend to occur regardless of the time of the year. Non-allergic rhinitis (also called vasomotor rhinitis) occurs in those patients in whom an allergic cause cannot be identified. Vasomotor rhinitis is thought to occur because of abnormal regulation of nasal blood flow.

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