About Smells and Noses
by Dr. Mo Lerner

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Do you smell? I hope so. Life would be far less interesting and perhaps impossible if not for the multi-functional proboscis that protrudes from your face. Consider the historical significance of the nose: Mass genocide has been imposed on humans because of stereotypical association between nasal features and Semitic ethnicity. And billions of dollars are spent annually on reconstructive surgery for aesthetic reasons, yet one wonders what would have become of Barbra Streisand, Merryl Streep and Jimmy Durante if not for their trademark shnozolas. But the functions of the nose go far beyond what they lend to appearance and character.

Mucus is your friend
When your nose is irritated, it sends out an alert to the mucus glands, thousands of tiny buckets that constantly empty and refill to wash out irritants. The cells manufacture different kinds of concoctions depending on the part of the body involved. Mucus serves a number of functions; it coats the body's inside lining to keep it moist, protects the intestines from acid strong enough to eat through metal, and helps digest food. After you sniff pepper, or eat hot spicy food your nose gets "runny" with mucus because the body tries to wash the odor chemicals away to prepare for the next sensation. In the nose and sinuses mucus warms and moistens cold air before it hits the lungs, and also acts like fly paper to catch bacteria and viruses before they can get deeper into the body. We get rid of them by coughing and sneezing much of this fluid. A sneeze sends millions of viruses through the air into the breath of unsuspecting victims. Mucus also serves as a rapid transit system bringing soldier cells and antibodies to battle scene where chemical reactions cause continuous "goo" formation. Fever and muscle aches are side effects of these battles.
Fighting back

Anti-histamines are the mainstay of treatment for common nasal congestion. In the battle against viruses, the immune system soldier cells cause release of histamine (and other related substances) that are responsible for a large part of the excess mucus. Anti-histamines stop this process and help to dry up the nose.

Decongestant nose sprays work in a different manner by shrinking the engorged blood vessels that cause much of the stuffiness. They bring immediate relief but when the drug wears off, rebound congestion is a problem. Try using a small amount in only one nostril at a time and limit use to no more than three days.

Very large people often feel a stuffy sensation even when they aren't suffering from a cold or the flu. This is due to back-up of blood from a heart which is trying to pump large volumes to supply a big body. See your doctor if this is a problem, especially when stuffiness affects sleep. Diuretics and/or a special breathing machine may make a dramatic difference.

A rose by any other name
Did you ever wonder why your dog is embarrassing you by sniffing guests in awkward places or why he likes to curl up on one of your pieces of clothing? It's because a dog's nose is hundreds of times more sensitive than a human's. As was the case with our ancient ancestors, the sense of smell in animals is so important it takes up a large portion of the brain. A remnant called the limbic system still exists in a part of our brains. This is the area which controls many of our memories and emotions. In millennia past we probably fell in love or fought because of what we smelled more than anything else.

Our sense of taste is also strongly influenced by smell. Vapors rise into a special membrane at the top of the nose where a chemical reaction occurs. Scientists believe that different odors fit into individual sensors like keys into a lock. Another theory is that each odor sends a different strength of electrical message to the brain. So powerful is our sense of smell that we can detect just one millionth of one milligram of garlic molecules floating in the air. That's the equivalent of tasting a drop of vinegar in a swimming pool. And you can even tell where the odor is coming from because it reaches one nostril before the other. This is similar to the way we locate the direction of sounds with our ears. Most people can distinguish 2,000 to 4,000 different odors. Females are more sensitive than males. It is said for instance, that most mothers can distinguish their own babies by smell alone a few hours after birth.

The body eventually adapts to most smells that are around for awhile because the brain gets tired of receiving the same message over and over again. This is why we often don't notice our own bad breath or body odor. Some odors are so repugnant that our eyes and nose water and we sneeze to blow the offending substance away.

Loss of smell
Anosmia, the clinical term for loss of smell, is sometimes due to tumor growth, trauma, chemical damage or, most commonly, old age. Whatever the cause, this also alters the way food tastes. Some people may tend to eat either less or more as a result of loss of smell. Food either becomes less appetizing or more is required in order to satisfy. Depending on the reversibility of the cause, the body may recover from anosmia. In any case, one can learn to compensate for loss of smell by eating foods with more appetizing colors or textures. Keep active and enjoy life! ß



Heretic Physician