October 14, 2011

Nasal Congestion Affected By How Well the Nose is Able to Cool Itself

Researchers at Monell Chemical Senses Center have figured out that nasal congestion is influenced by more than just nasal airflow. Apparently temperature and humidity influence the perception of nasal congestion just as much as how physically obstructed the nose is.

By having volunteers breath air with variations in temperature and humidity, they have determined that cool and dry air minimizes nasal congestion without any change in how open the nasal cavity is.

By taking into account other measured variables, they have deduced that nasal congestion is influenced by how well the nose is able to cool itself from the nasal airflow specifically. The more warm and humid the air is, the less able the nose is able to cool itself leading to perception of nasal congestion.

With actual nasal obstruction, it may be not so much that you can't breath that causes the feeling of nasal congestion, but rather the reduced ability of the nose to cool itself from the absence/reduction of air circulation within the nasal cavity.

So... if nasal cooling influences perception of nasal congestion, this may be one of many factors that may help explain the phenomenon of Empty Nose Syndrome. Patients suffering from Empty Nose Syndrome have an abnormally open nasal cavity from extensive surgical removal of internal nasal structures... yet complain the most bitterly about how congested their nose feels.

This information may also help guide treatment in patients with tracheostomy who also have a totally open nose, but because they breath thru an opening in the neck, have no nasal airflow in the nose which leads to the sense of nasal congestion.

Based on this new research, in these particular patient populations, providing allergy medications like steroid nasal sprays and anti-histamines may not be the best way of addressing nasal congestion.

Clearly, more research is needed on this topic, but certainly opens other new avenues of possible treatment protocols.

Perceiving Nasal Patency through Mucosal Cooling Rather than Air Temperature or Nasal Resistance. PLoS ONE 6(10): e24618. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0024618
Fauquier blog
Fauquier ENT

Dr. Christopher Chang is a private practice otolaryngology, head & neck surgeon specializing in the treatment of problems related to the ear, nose, and throat. Located in Warrenton, VA about 45 minutes west of Washington DC, he also provides inhalant allergy testing/treatment, hearing tests, and dispenses hearing aids.

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