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Nasal turbinates

Those dangly looking things in the nasal cavity are turbinates – a kind of erectile tissue that expand and contract to control airflow through your nostrils. Who knew?

If you’ve ever wondered why a congested nose tends to feel blocked on one side (and runny on the other) only to switch sides later, then wonder no more. The answer (as sniffed out online) is the “alternating turgescence of the nasal turbinates”, which happens all the time for most of us, even when we’re not sick:

In 1927*, Heetderks described the alternating turgescence of the inferior turbinates in 80% of a normal population.

According to Heetderks, the cycle is the result of alternating congestion and decongestion of the nasal conchae or turbinates, predominantly the inferior turbinates, which are by far the largest of the turbinates in each nasal fossa.

Turbinates consist of bony projections covered by erectile tissue, much like the tissues of the penis and clitoris. The turbinates in one fossa fill up with blood while the opposite turbinates decongest by shunting blood away. This cycle, which is controlled by the autonomic nervous system, has a mean duration of two and a half hours but varies widely with age, body-posture, and other conditions.

He further observed and documented that the turbinates in the dependent nasal fossa fill when the patient is lying down. The nasal cycle is an alternation in both time and between left and right sides, with the total resistance in the nose remaining constant.

It is possible that the nasal cycle may exacerbate the nasal congestion caused by the common cold, as the lack of motility of the cilia in one half of the nose may lead to an uncomfortable sensation of not being able to shift mucus by blowing the nose.

Wikipedia – Nasal Cycle

Happy Christmas.

*This research sounds a little old and vague to me but seems to be the generally accepted model. Further research is underway.

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