Definition & Overview

The nose plays an important role in the respiratory system. Aside from acting as a filter, it also ensures that the air is warm and moist before it enters the lungs. However, unlike many organs that have just a single function, the nose has other responsibilities, such as producing the sense of smell. This is particularly important as studies have shown that our sense of taste is directly related with how we smell an object.

Just by studying the multiple functions of the nose, it’s easy to understand that when it has problems, the body is affected in many ways. For example, a simple blocked nose due to a cold can result in reduced sense of taste, reduced ability to breathe, and headaches because the nose contain nerves, called olfactory nerves that transmit data to the brain.

Unfortunately, the common cold is only one of many problems that can affect the nose. Other problem can be caused by injuries, such as nasal fractures and nasal obstructions. The nose is also prone to abnormal growth, such as deviated symptom. Most of all, it’s prone to a variety of medical conditions, such as rhinitis, nasal polyps, nasal allergies, tumors, and nosebleeds.

Cause of Condition

One of the most common types of nose problems is an injury, which can damage the skin, cartilage, bone, and nerves. Research shows that 50% of facial fractures affect the nasal region. This is why the majority of injuries that involve the face require the presence of an ENT specialist to inspect the nasal structure for any signs of trauma.

While not as common as nasal injuries, nose problems can also be in the form of congenital malformations, such as nasal dermoids, which refer to a group of nasal anomalies that include nasal clefts, gliomas, encephaloceles, epignathus, and nasopharyngeal teratoma, to name a few.

The majority of nasal problems are due to medical conditions that affect one or more parts of the nose. Some of the most common are:

  • Various forms of sinusitis: In general, sinusitis is the inflammation of the sinuses

  • Empty Nose Syndrome: ENS is a condition characterized by severe dryness of the nasal passageway and the feeling of nasal obstruction.

  • Cystic Fibrosis: CF is a serious disease that not only affects the sinuses but the lungs and digestive tract as well.

  • Epistaxis (nosebleeds): This condition is characterized by blood flowing through the nasal cavity.

  • Upper Respiratory Infections: The upper respiratory tract includes the nose, sinuses, throat, and larynx. A URI results in nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, headaches, low-grade fever, and ear fullness.

  • Nasal Allergies: These result in nasal congestion, sneezing, and other symptoms similar to the common cold.

  • Smell & Taste Disorders: This can be caused by nasal blockage or damage to the olfactory (sense of smell) cleft nerve.

  • Sinus Tumors: Although rare, these can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

  • Cerebrospinal Fluid (CSF) Leaks: A tear in the dura (brain lining) results in the draining of CSF through the nasal passageway.

  • Epiphora: Excessive tearing is often the result of a blocked portion of the nose called the nasolacrimal ducts. These ducts direct the flow of tears from the eyes to the nose.

Key Symptoms

The symptoms of nose problems vary depending on the exact problem. Some of the most common medical symptoms are sneezing, nasal congestion, headaches, fever, and reduced smelling and tasting abilities.

Deformities in the nasal region can be visible or hidden within the nasal structure. These can also result in many symptoms similar to that of medical conditions that affect the nose.

Injuries, on the other hand, not only result in deformity of the bone, cartilage, and skin but can also seriously affect the nose’s ability to perform its primary tasks.

Who to See & Types of Treatment Available

If you experience the symptoms listed above, you must consult your family doctor who will perform initial tests and assessment. If the cause of the nose problem is injury or if the condition progresses, it’s likely that you’ll be referred to an ENT specialist who will provide further evaluation and treatment.

The methods used in treating nose problems depend on the exact cause of the condition. If the cause is a viral infection, most doctors prefer to wait it out. Medications, such as analgesics and antipyretics are usually enough to manage the symptoms. However, if a bacterial infection is the primary cause, antibiotics will be used to treat the infection.

Surgery is often only considered when medications have failed to improve the condition or when there is a deformity of any part of the nose that affects the person’s way of life. In the case of injuries, surgery may be required to reconstruct the damaged bone, skin, or cartilage.

One of the reasons why surgery is often considered as the last option is the possibility of complications. For example, sinus surgeries that involve the septum and turbinates can result in bleeding, intracranial complications, nasal obstruction, and impaired sense of smell and taste. It might even affect the appearance of the nose.

Whenever possible, many people prefer to attempt home remedies instead of consulting their doctors. It’s important to understand that although some remedies are effective, some can aggravate the condition. A good example is the incorrect usage of nasal sprays.

Nasal sprays can be easily purchased over-the-counter at a local pharmacy. However, many people are not aware of the correct procedure for using them. Incorrect usage can result in complications, such as a nosebleed. Overusing the product or using it on a regular basis may result in a rebound effect, wherein the nose no longer responds to the medication, making you use more and more, thus making it seemingly addictive. When you stop using the medication, the congestion may even worsen.

To avoid complications, avoid self-medication as much as possible and consult a doctor right away if your experience the symptoms of nose problems.

References:

  • Chegar BE, Tatum SA III. Nasal fractures. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund LJ, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2010:chap 35.

  • Mayersak RJ. Facial trauma. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 42.

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