Who hasn’t had a blocked nose? Especially when we have a cold and, thank goodness that the blocked nose, runny nose, sneezing as well as fever last only a few days. So can you imagine having a blocked nose all the year round? Most of us cannot imagine this! Yet most of us who live in polluted cities like Hong Kong probably are walking around with a blocked nose; a chronically blocked nose that creeps up on us so slowly that we never even guessed it.
Aside from smelling fragrances, the aroma of food, the appreciation of flavor as well as making our face look more beautiful, our nose has another far more important job. It protects our lungs by warming, filtering and cleansing the air before it reaches our delicate lungs. If the air is dirty, it causes our turbinates to swell inside so as to narrow or even block our nasal passages so that the air cannot enter. Our nose secretes mucus to wash away the dust and pollen, and if that is not enough, it gets all itchy and makes us sneeze so we can blow out the dust-filled mucus. So what happens to us when our nose gets chronically blocked? Actually quite a lot can happen. It affects our nose, our sinuses and eyes, our ears, our throat and finally our beauty sleep.
When the nose is blocked, we experience a nasally voice and have a postnasal drip. As the sensitive turbinates inside the nose swell up, they may make contact with one another or with the septum, and this sometimes causes “Sluder’s headaches” with pain of one/both temples, at the top and/or the back of the head. This may sometimes be mistaken for the more uncommon migraine.
When the lining of the nose is swollen, it also blocks the openings of structures that open into the nose. Blockage of any of the sinuses that drain into the nose can cause sinus pressure headaches above, below, between or behind the eyes as well as at the top of the head. A bacterial sinusitis can also occur if the sinuses cannot drain themselves. Our tear ducts also drain into the nose so a blocked nose may cause our eyes to “flood” more with tearing, impairing our clear vision. This can be troublesome indeed.
At the back of the nose lies the opening to the Eustachian tubes that re-pressurise our middle ear compartment. If the nose, and therefore the tube is blocked, a lower middle ear pressure can result. This is the same feeling we experience when a plane lands. Sometimes though it can be very painful especially for children. Longstanding obstruction of this tube often leads to repeated middle ear infections and/or perforated eardrums, and hearing problems especially in children.
So our nose is block. That is not a problem as we can breathe though our mouth, right? Correct…we can breathe through our mouth but why then do we need a nose? Actually most of us would automatically start to breathe though our mouth without realizing it when our nose is blocked. This leads to so many things like dry lips, bad breath, repeated mouth ulcers, sore throats that lead to large tonsils and repeated tonsil infections. Breathing and speaking through our mouth becomes a problem too. As the mouth gets drier, we cannot sense that we are breathing in less air than we should so. So when we speak, we cannot project our voice well. So we compensate by powering up our voice box to do all the work and that is why we end up with a hoarse voice.
Finally the blocked nose and the compensatory mouth breathing affects even our sleep. Although the mouth is a larger opening for air, inside our throat sits our mobile tongue and also tonsils. These sometimes are sucked in and obstruct during sleep, as the nose cannot act as its usual passage for air intake. Snoring, poor quality sleep and maybe even obstructive sleep apnea then occurs. Over time, the poor quality sleep we get every night makes us irritable, easily frustrated, gives us oily skin with acne, eye bags and a generally darker facial complexion.
All the above can occur because of a chronically blocked nose. The interesting thing is that many of us remain unaware that is happening as the process is such a gradual one. However, as quietly as it can be blocked, thankfully it can also be reversed with medication and/or surgery. So yes… we can still get the beauty sleep in our beautiful city…and all because of a nose!in our beautiful city…and all because of a nose!