The Hardworking Nose

Hey Matt:

Why does it seem that my left nostril churns out more products (boogers) than my right? I know that people can be left or right handed, and some people are right-/left-eye dominant. Is it possible that I am left-nostril dominant? I have canceled out the obvious factors such as tides, full moons, and the ratio of items scratched to items sniffed. By the way, I am not proud of it, but I am a mouth breather.

Nostrils are a little like Siamese twins. Stuck together, looking a lot alike, but surprisingly independent under the right circumstances. And that includes booger management. You get the little squashy things by breathing in dust that catches in your nose hairs and mucus, and by your sinuses draining through the back door and into your nasal passages. The left side could be working harder because the right side is blocked (polyp, allergy, inflammation, deviated septum) -- not taking in as much air or not allowing sinus drainage. (One reason you are a mouth breather, perhaps?) Or you might have some kind of low-grade infection in a left-side sinus, so it's cranking out more booger juice than the right. But as I said, nostrils can exercise their independence without booger assistance.

So, you're lying in bed and all of a sudden you realize you can't breathe very well through your right nostril. Everything seems okay on the left, but the right seems all puffy. Eventually it goes away, but you know your right side was plugged up. Weird. Next night same thing, only it's your left nostril this time. Weirder. What's going on is called the nasal cycle. Most people (though not all) experience it. Seems each nostril is fed by its own blood-vessel branch. For reasons the science guys haven't really pinned down, blood flows alternately on the right side, then the left in cycles of one to three hours. So, periodically, 24/7, each nostril is engorged with blood and nasal passages narrow.

Seems like a pretty goofy bit of physiology. But of course there is nothing about the human body that is too goofy to be investigated in some lab. And darned if some lab didn't come up with at least a good guess. They speculate that the alternate blood rush acts like a pump that squeezes a specific kind of infection-fighting plasma exudates into the nasal passages to help fight germs we suck in. This is still in the realm of nasal speculation, of course, but no dumber than the phenomenon itself.

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