Cold Air and Your Nose

January 16, 2009 at 11:33 am Leave a comment

Walking into work the last few days in the sub-zero temperatures, I have noticed that breathing through my nose gives me a weird sensation. It feels like my nose is constricting; which I guess is normal when you take a deeper breath through your nose, but this is more than that. It seems like the nose hairs stand straight up and the nose gives a full feeling, almost like I am congested. I was curious about this and did some research:

The nose is a remarkable organ designed to condition inhaled air in order to protect the delicate lung tissues. Whether the inhaled air has a relative humidity of one percent or ninety percent, the nose adds or extracts moisture so that air reaching the lungs has a constant relative humidity of about 75%. The same is true of temperature. When breathing through the nose, one may breathe in air at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or at 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but within a quarter of a second the air temperature is quickly brought to 98.6 degrees. Many tiny blood vessels are used to affect a temperature exchange. When a person breathes cold air, the tissues lining the nose swell as the capillaries dilate, bringing warm blood to heat the cool air. Excess blood in the nose is the cause of nasal congestion (nasal congestion is backed up blood, not increased mucus).


I thought this was pretty interesting. I’ve never thought much about the nose doing all that work (yes, I knew your nose hairs collect pollutants/dust/etc and act as a filter but the humidity and temperature regulations were new).


Entry filed under: Realizations. Tags: , , , , .

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