The nose is one of the most prominent facial features. Behind its protruding exterior of the nose anatomy lies an intricate system that keeps you breathing fresh air and smelling the roses.

As the respiratory system’s oxygen passageway, the nose facilitates the movement of air through chambers in the throat—called the nasopharynx and oropharynx—to the voice box and lungs (Bradford 2015).

The most familiar part of the nose anatomy is the visible outer structure, including the nostrils. Inside are the septum, a wall of cartilage, and two nasal cavities that lead to a system of canals and air pockets, called sinus cavities. The cavities extend to the back of the skull, above the oral cavity in the cheekbones, and between the eyes and brows. These components assist in smelling, tasting and immune system defense, as well as breathing (Bradford 2015).

Read on to get a whiff of more fun facts about the olfactory organ:

  • The nose helps with immunity by filtering air. Fine, hairlike appendages on the nasal tissue, called cilia, catch debris as air passes. The debris is then trapped by mucus created in the sinuses and later swallowed for processing in the stomach (Bradford 2015; Cleveland Clinic 2020).
  • To prepare inhaled air for your lungs, your nasal passage humidifies the air using three sets of turbinates—called the upper, middle and lower conchae (Cleveland Clinic 2020).
  • Nasal mucus is made of water, proteins, antibodies and salts. It is typically clear, but when the body is fighting an infection, mucus can turn yellow or green from a chemical secreted by white blood cells to kill pathogens (Bradford 2015).
  • Breathing through the nose instead of the mouth during aerobic exercise—as you would in a yoga practice—can improve endurance and athletic performance. A study found that the lower breath rate allows more time for oxygen to reach the bloodstream and requires less work from the body to gather oxygen. Nasal breathing may also help activate lower parts of the lungs associated with the parasympathetic nerves, improving concentration and relaxation (Panasevich 2020).
  • The human nose can smell over 1 trillion scents! These are captured by the olfactory cleft in the roof of the nasal cavity, which contains several nerve endings that carry smell sensations to the brain (Bradford 2015).

See also: Longing for Lung Facts