Nasal Anatomy and Obstructions… “I CAN’T BREATHE!”

Have you ever awakened from a good sleep to a stuffed nose or runny nose? How miserable is a blocked stuffy nose? How lucky are those individuals that do not ever sustain a postnasal drip, sinusitis, allergies, rhinitis, deviated septum… “But wait a second…What are you talking about?”

Oh, I apologize. Let’s take a specific look at the nose and its inner structures. This will explain why the nose is so important to us and why we are miserable when it is obstructed.  

First of all, what is inside a nose is quite interesting. It has several functions that are vital. For example, the nose warms the air as you draw in the outside air. It also traps particulates in the air so they do not reach the lungs. The nose has special sensors or receptors called the olfactory system, whereupon a person can smell and taste.



The nose and its intricate structures are or can be divided into different areas of specificity. I will break them down for you. The outermost external part of the nose is where the opening is where air can be drawn in and exhaled. When looking into the external structure of the nose the opening or the nostrils are divided by a piece of cartilage. This cartilage is called the Nasal Septum. This septum also provides shape to the outer nose. The nostrils going further in becomes the Nasal Cavity. Within this Nasal Cavity can be further divided into the Vestibule, Respiratory section, and the Olfactory area. 

The Nasal Vestibule merely means the opening of the nostrils is dilated after the nostril openings. The respiratory section is where there are important structures.  As air is drawn in, there are bony structures as in the Nasal Cavity called turbinates. There are four protrusions that are covered with mucosa. The turbinates function as a way for the nose to cause airflow to become turbulent. This turbulence will ensure that airflow has to come in contact with the mucosa to hydrate, warm and trap potential pathogens and particulate matter from the air we breathe.. (These are also called Conchae.) 

Going further in, the olfactory area is in the roof of the nasal cavity. This item is responsible for taste and smell. The bowman’s Gland is also located here. This gland secretes a yellow substance or pigment. Mucus gives off an odor that the olfactory area can pick up.

Continuing our journey into the nose, you can visualize surrounding structures such as the paranasal sinuses, nasolacrimal ducts, and the oral cavity...

The para-nasal sinuses surround the nasal cavity and they drain into the nasal cavity. The mucosa of these sinuses connects to the nasal cavity mucosa. 

The Nasolacrimal ducts are passageways that connect to the lacrimal gland. It is a drainage system for eye tears when one cries or has allergies. The nasolacrimal gland also connects to the nasal Mucosa. 

So this nasal mucosa must be important right? It seems to be a common connection to most of the structures in the nose. The nasal mucosa is an extremely important structure. It is directly related to and functions with our immune system in response to allergens that we breathe. We breathe every day thousands of highly infectious pathogens, and foreign substances that could cause harm to us, however, this mucosa is our first line of defense.  There are secondary components in the mucosa that will deal with the pathogens and substances once these are trapped by the mucosa.  Dangerous microbes are annihilated and denatured by lysosomal enzymes. The layer of the mucosa is constantly exchanged by epithelial cells to provide an additional layer of protection. This system is slick and quite efficient.  

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