Is Your Nose Just a Snot Factory?

By Howard J. Bennett

Although some people think the sole purpose of the nose is to make boogers that is only one of its functions. The inside of your nose contains fleshy parts called turbinates. Your nose also contains lots of mucus-producing glands. Mucus is made up of water mixed with proteins that give it a sticky, gooey quality. Together, the turbinates and mucus glands warm and moisturize the air that you breathe. The reason for this is because your lungs prefer moist, warm air to cold, dry air.

There are lots of tiny hairs in your nose that are designed to trap dust, dirt, cat hairs, mold spores, and other particles that you breathe in. Boogers are actually dried out mucus mixed with all the junk that floats around in the air. Junk that your brave nose prevented from getting into your lungs!

Whenever you catch a cold, there is a war going on in your nose and sinuses. In the first few days, the virus holds your cells hostage and uses them to make more viruses. While this is going on, the sinus area gets swollen and clear mucus drips out of your nose. Depending on your age, this mucus will end up on your shirtsleeve, in a tissue or on someone else’s shoulder. (If you are old enough to be reading this article, your mucus should definitely end up in a tissue!)

In addition to a runny nose, cold sufferers commonly have one or more of the following symptoms: scratchy sore throat, headache, cough, and fever.

Fever reducers and pain medicines like Tylenol and Motrin can make you feel better as does eating and drinking lots of fluids. Cold medicines, despite what you see in commercials, do not reduce the runny nose that accompanies colds.

After you have had a cold for a day or so, an army of white blood cells moves into the area and starts killing the viruses that had the nerve to attack you.

In the battles that follow, dead viruses and white blood cells mix with the clear mucus and—presto!—you now have yellow (or green) goop dripping out of your head. In most cases, a cold lasts from three to 10 days until all the invaders have been destroyed and you emerge, snot-free, from the battlefield.

Here are some smart things you can do to help prevent getting colds:

• Wash your hands often during the day, especially before you eat.

• Get plenty of exercise, which helps your body fight infection.

• Eat well so your body has the nutrients it needs to stay healthy.


© 2012 Howard J. Bennett. All Rights Reserved.
(First published in the Washington Post 11/17/08.)

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