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The Nose

Source: A Handbook Of Health

How the Nose is Made. The nose began as a pair of little puckers, or
dimples, just above the mouth, containing cells that were particularly
good smellers, in order to test the food before it was eaten. All smells
rise, so these cells were right on the spot for their particular

The original way of breathing, before the nose-dimples or pits opened
through into the throat, was through the mouth; and that is one
reason why it is so easy to fall into the bad habit of mouth-breathing
whenever the nose gets blocked by adenoids or catarrh. Some
creatures--fishes, for instance,--breathe through their mouths entirely;
if you watch one in an aquarium or a clear stream, you will easily see
that it is going gulp, gulp, gulp constantly. The saying to drink
like a fish is a slander upon an innocent creature; for what it is
really doing is breathing, not drinking. Even a frog, which has nostrils
opening into its throat, still has to swallow its air in gulps, as you
can see by watching its throat when it is sitting quietly. And, strange
as it may seem, if you prop its mouth open, it will suffocate, because
it can no longer gulp down air.[28]

Our noses are nine-tenths for breathing, and only about one-tenth for
smelling; so that by far the greater part of the nose is built on
breathing lines. But the smelling part of it, though small, is very
important, because it now has to decide, not merely upon the goodness or
badness of the food, but also upon the purity or foulness of the air we
breathe. The nostrils lie, as you can see, side by side, separated
from each other by a thin, straight plate of gristle and bone known as
the septum. This should be perfectly straight and flat; but very often
when the nose does not grow properly in childhood, it becomes crumpled
upon itself, or bulged over to one side or the other, and so blocks up
one of the nostrils. This is a very common cause of catarrh, and
requires, for its cure, a slight operation, a cutting away of the
bulging or projecting part of the septum. The rims of the openings of
the nose, known as the wings, have little muscles fastened to them
which pull them upward and backward, thus widening the air openings or,
as we say, dilating the nostrils. If you will watch any one who has been
running fast, or a horse that has been galloping, you will see that his
nostrils enlarge with every breath; and these same movements occur in
sick people who are suffering from disease of the lungs or the heart,
which makes it difficult for them to get breath enough.

Each nostril opens into a short and rather narrow, but high, passage,
known as the nasal passage, through which the air pours into the back
of the throat, or pharynx, and so down into the windpipe and lungs.
Instead of having smooth walls, however, the passage is divided into
three almost separate tubes, by little shelves of bone that stick out
from the outer wall. These are covered with thick coils of tiny blood
vessels, through which hot blood is being constantly pumped, like steam
through the coils of a radiator, so that the air, as it is being drawn
into the lungs, is warmed and moistened. The passage is lined with a
soft, moist skin, called mucous membrane, very much like that which
lines the stomach and bowels, except that it is covered with tiny little
microscopic hairs, called cilia, and that its glands pour out a thin,
sticky mucus, instead of a digestive juice. This thick network of
blood vessels just under the thin mucous skin is easily scratched into
or broken, and then we have nose-bleed.

The purpose of this mucus is to catch and hold, just as flypaper catches
flies, all specks of dust, lint, or germs that may be floating in the
air we breathe, and to keep them from going on into the lungs. As these
are caught upon the lining of the nose, they are washed down by the flow
of mucus or wafted by the movement of the tiny hairs back into the
throat, and swallowed into the stomach, where they are digested. Or, if
they are very irritating, they are blown out of the nostrils, or sneezed
out, and in that way got rid of.

If the dust is too irritating, or the air is foul and contains disease
germs, these set up an inflammation in the nose, and we catch cold, as
we say. If we keep on breathing bad or dusty air, the walls of the nasal
passages become permanently thickened and swollen; the mucus, instead of
being thin and clear, becomes thick and sticky and yellowish, and we
have a catarrh.

Catarrh is the result of a succession of neglected bad colds, caused,
not by fresh, cold air, but by hot, stuffy, foul air containing dust and
germs. The best and only sure way to avoid catarrh is by breathing
nothing but fresh, pure air, day and night, keeping your skin clean and
vigorous by cool bathing every day, and taking plenty of play in the
open air.

So perfect is this heating, warming, and dust-cleansing apparatus in the
nose, that by the time quite cold air has passed through the nostrils,
and got down into the back of the throat, it has been warmed almost to
the temperature of the body, or blood-heat, and has been moistened and
purified of three-fourths of its dust or disease germs. When you go out
of doors on a cold, frosty morning, your nose is very likely to block
up, because so much hot blood is pumped into these little steam-coils of
blood vessels, in order to warm the air properly, that they swell until
they almost block up the nostrils.

The Sense of Smell. The lower three-fourths of the nasal passages have
nothing whatever to do with the sense of smell; this is found only in
the highest, or third, division of the passages, right up under the root
of the nose, where odors can readily rise to it. Here can be found a
little patch of mucous membrane of a deep yellowish color, which is very
sensitive to smells, and from which a number of tiny little nerve twigs
run up to form the nerve of smell (olfactory nerve), which goes
directly to the brain. The position of the smell area at the highest and
narrowest part of the nose passage explains why when you have a very bad
cold, you almost lose your sense of smell; the lining of the lower part
of the nose has become so inflamed and swollen as to block up the way to
the highest part where the smelling is done.

Adenoids. If colds are neglected and allowed to run on, the
inflammation spreads through the nose back into the upper part of the
throat, or pharynx. Here it attacks a spongy group of glands, like a
third tonsil, which swells up until it almost blocks up the nose and
makes you breathe through your mouth. These swollen glands are called
adenoids, and cause not only mouth-breathing, but deafness, loss of
appetite, indigestion, headache, and a stupid, tired condition; so that
children that are mouth-breathers are often two or more grades behind
in school, poor students, and even stunted and undersized. You can often
tell them at sight by their open mouths and vacant, stupid look. A very
simple and harmless scraping operation will remove these adenoids
entirely, and what a wonderful improvement the mouth-breather will make!
He will often catch up two grades, and gain two inches in height and ten
pounds in weight within a year.

Adenoids not only cause deafness by blocking up the tube (Eustachian)
that runs from the throat to the ear,--the tube through which the air
passes when your ear goes pop,--but are also the commonest cause of
ear-ache and gatherings in the ear, which may burst the drum.

Next: The Tongue

Previous: The Lookout Department

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