The Nose in Winter
When asked, most people think of the nose as an organ that we use to smell things. We think of the aroma of fresh coffee brewing and of bread baking. We rejoice over the wonderful fragrance of flowers and perfumes. This is certainly a wonderful and enjoyable sense but the nose does much more. It is actually a very complicated and usually highly efficient organ that heats, humidifies and cleanses the air we breathe in. Under most circumstances winter air will be heated to 32°C during its brief passage from the front to the back of the nose. The nose also raises the relative humidity to 85-90 percent. In addition the nose cleanses the air of the majority of particulate matter. In order to accomplish these feats the nose has a rich supply of blood vessels immediately beneath a very thin lining that is protected by a thin layer of mucus called a mucus blanket. This layer of mucus is produced at the front of the nose and is drawn backwards into the throat where it is eventually swallowed and reabsorbed into the system. Under most circumstances this is a highly effective system that serves us well.
There are several things we can do to try to help our nose when it becomes overworked. They’re all quite simple and may be used on as needed basis. They are listed below in no particular order of importance.
In the Fall, Winter and Spring months ensure that your home environment is adequately humidified. Electrically heated homes generally have adequate humidity whereas homes heated by furnaces or wood stoves generally require additional humidification. If you have forced air heating it is generally quite simple to install a humidifier on the furnace. Set the humidistat to the amount of humidity desired. The filters on these devices should be changed more regularly if you live in a region that has hard water. As the outside temperature drops it becomes more difficult to maintain adequate humidity because of condensation of moisture on the windows. In addition, the use of a bedside humidifier so the moisture will waft over your face while you are sleeping, is often a benefit.
Saline sprays are very useful in helping to maintain adequate moisture within the nose. Typical instructions say that you may use these to three times of day but you’re free to use them as often as you wish. Bottles may be refilled by prying the top off and refilling with saline solution that you may purchase at any pharmacy. If you wish you may make your own solution consisting of one half teaspoonful of salt in 1 c. of well boiled water. Refill the spray bottle so that it is half-full to allow air to be mixed with the saline solution when you spray. Replace the top and use as before.
Recently, some products have been introduced that may be used to flush the nose more completely. Information on these products may be obtained from your pharmacist. Such products may benefit extremely dry noses, and patients with anatomical deformities or sinus disease.
Materials to soften the crusts that form within the nostrils
There are many preparations on the market that may be used to soften the crusts in the nose. Most of these use a water-based gel which is the safest. Sometimes the nose is so dry that these water-based gels won’t adequately lubricate the nose. In this case very small amounts of ointment may be rubbed sparingly over the scabbed areas within the nose. Use this with caution and only if other methods fail to work.