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.
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
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
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