The Nasal Cavity
With its many functions, besides taking in air for the lungs, the nasal cavity is part of our respiratory system which is made up of two main divisions:
Upper respiratory tract
- Nasal cavity - the large space above and behind the nose
- Pharynx - the muscular and membranous canal leading from the nasal passages and the mouth to the larynx
- Larynx - the structure of muscle and cartilage, below the pharynx, connecting to the trachea and serving as the organ of voice
Lower respiratory tract
- Trachea (windpipe) - the tube extending from the larynx to the bronchi
- Bronchi - the two main branches of the trachea serving as major passageways of the lungs
- Lungs - the two sponge-like organs in the chest that oxygenate the blood and remove carbon dioxide from it
The main function of the nasal cavity is to serve as:
- main passageway for the airflow going to the lungs
- air filter of the incoming air
- air temperature regulator
- air humidifier to aid the filtering function
Nasal Cavity and Upper Respiratory Tract
a - vertebrae, b - esophagus, c - trachea
d - cricoid cartilage, e - laryngopharynx, f -
pharynx, g - nasopharynx, k - tongue,
l - hard palate,
o - superior turbinate,
p - middle turbinate, q - inferior turbinate
The nasal cavity is made up of the nasal bone, which serves as its ceiling. The floor of the cavity forms the roof of the mouth. The maxilla as the side walls. There is a dividing wall in the center of the cavity called the septum. Connecting through small openings to the cavity, and adjacent to it, are the paranasal sinus cavities. Then there are three scroll-like, spongy, horizontal protuberances called the turbinates. They are covered with epithelium--a membrane which produces secretions and have also transporting and regulating functions. The turbinates deflect air to the olfactory segments--which have to do with the smelling sense.
As already seen the nasal cavity is also part of the smelling sense. Thus it is divided into two segments: the olfactory and respiratory segments. The latter has a network of blood vessels which engorge with blood. This restricts the air flow and deflects it to the other side of the nose. This occurs as a cycle about every half hour. The olfactory section, which is located along the back side of the nasal cavity ceiling, is lined with a special membrane containing receptors as well as small glands and nerves which are vital for the sense of smell.
Serving as part of the lining of the nasal cavity are mucus and cilia. They trap and move dust particles and germs from the air passing through. The cilia are tiny hairlike organelles which act as oars; moving mucus laden with foreign particles and germs down toward the pharynx, so it can be swallowed and digested. The cilia moves rhythmically in one direction at 16 times per second. Nothing should be done to harm these important organelles whether from excessive heat or OTC remedies.
Inside and around the nostrils are hairs which are part of the air filtering function of the nasal cavity. They are designed to trap viruses and bacteria present in the air going through. Some people like to pull these hairs or cut them very short for esthetic reasons. They should never be pulled since this can create an infection and very painful swelling. It is fine to trim them, but not too short so they can do their job.
Air and mucus must be constantly flowing between the sinus cavities and nasal cavity. Whenever this flow is interrupted the accumulated mucus will create sinus pressure and can cause sinus or nasal infection. This is why it is important to relief sinus pressure soon. A viral upper respiratory infection tends to obstruct the osteo-meatal complex--the honeycomb-like structure between the sinuses and the nasal cavity. If the infection lasts more than a week it would then be a bacterial infection often accompanied by phlegm which may require an antibiotic like Bactrim or Keflex to get rid of it. Today it is known that most recurring sinus infections are caused by fungi in the mucus rather than from the nasal or sinus membranes themselves. Often large quantities of certain foods can produce excessive amounts of mucus and nasal or sinus drainage. For example, post-nasal drip, which can irritate respiratory passages membranes and trigger an infection.
Polyps are often caused by trauma to the lining of the sinus or nasal cavities. Chronic inflammation--from allergies or infections--can also cause polyps. They are benign overgrowths of the membrane lining those cavities. This disease usually shows by age 40. They are often difficult to distinguish from a simple swelling of the turbinates. They are rarely cancerous or bleed, but should bleeding take place it could be a sign of malignancy, thus a visit to your physician would be highly recommended. Should nasal polyps develop before age 16 they could be associated with other disorders such as cystic fibrosis. Again, a visit to a physician would be the right thing to do.
It is, technically, a persistent swelling of the nasal membrane. The most common type being allergic rhinitis which is caused, primarily, by the environment. The irritated nasal membrane reacts by swelling to produce more mucus to repel the irritating allergic element. The mucus is generated so fast that it produces the "runny nose" symptom so characteristic of rhinitis. Overuse of some nasal sprays can be the cause also a type of rhinitis named: rhinitis medicamentosa, which can require surgery. In many cases heredity plays an important role on the onset of rhinitis. Although it is not a serious condition it can be annoying. "Three Steps to Sinus and Rhinitis Relief", being offered at the end of this page, offers good information on what to do to mitigate this condition.
Polyps surgery - polyps can be surgically removed, but about half of the time they return. An alternative are steroid sprays and allergy reaction desensitization
Opening of the osteomeatal complex surgery - sometimes this honeycomb-like passage between the sinuses and nasal cavity, through which mucus and air must flow, gets
permanently blocked and surgery can be used to open it. This, nevertheless, should be the last option to be used
Nasal endoscopy - is surgery for the removal of clots and for cleaning the nasal cavity
Ostial surgery - done to open a blocked ostium--the small opening at the end of the sinus cavity that drains mucus to the nasal cavity
Nasal membrane surgery - done to remove badly infected nasal membrane--caused by severe cases of chronic sinus infection. In the past it was thought that the nasal membrane was the cause of infections. In 2005, however, scientists found that the problem was not the membrane, but the mucus which had infection causing fungi with it.
Sinus infection and other nasal and sinus problems are very rarely associated with cancer--about .05% of all new cancers every year only, i.e., about one case for every 100,000 Americans. It wouldn't hurt, on the other hand, to know the risk factors associated with nasal cancer:
Nasal cancer risk factor is increased by:
- Weakened immunity - associated with AIDS or anti-rejection drugs
- Chronic sinus infection - some viruses can get into the cells of the nose and change genes in them to form cancer cells
- Use of tobacco - this is the worst risk factor of them all
History of cancer - of the area from the nose and mouth to the lungs and stomach--the aero-digestive tract
- Breathing sawdust and smoke - from certain fires, like open-smoke fires to cook food
Keeping your nasal cavity healthy
Nasal cavity health depends from several factors.
The food we eat - eating large amounts of certain foods--for example, foods D, S, E, explained in detail in the Manuscript--increases the risk factor for nasal and sinus drainage, congestion and pressure, post-nasal-drip
Keeping the the nasal and sinus openings and passages clear at all times - to avoid congestion, pressure, infection
- Antioxidant supplements - are good to boost the immune system and thereby lower the risk of sinus infection
- Drinking plenty of plain water everyday - to keep the mucus thin and flowing
- If one has the tobacco habit it should be kicked
Fasting has been embraced by some as good for general health including the nasal cavity's
Managing environmental allergies to keep the nasal cavity clear at all times and irritation down
Allowing full nerve energy flow to all the organs of the body icluding the nasal cavity membrane. This is explained in the Three Steps to Sinus Relief manuscript
Most sinus and nasal cavities problems could be avoided by keeping in mind and practicing the above items. The Manuscript offered, below, shows specific ways to do this and how to manage specific sinus problems