Love it or not, your nose can't be ignored. It is a small but mighty part of our being. And a little pampering -- when a cold or allergies strike -- can go far.
The upside to having a nose is its faithful ability to detect wondrous aromas. Our nose serves as a sensor, helping us determine if a potential food source is toxic or edible, friend or foe. The nose knows whether it's coffee we're sniffing, spoiled leftovers -- or worse.
Alternaria. Aspergillus. Cladosporium. Penicillium. Unless you have a special fondness for fungi, you’re probably not too familiar with these or any of the thousands of other common molds.
But if you’re among the estimated 5% of Americans who have mold allergies, you may be all too well acquainted with the itchy eyes, nasal congestion, coughing, wheezing, skin irritation, and other symptoms mold allergies can cause. Severe mold allergies can even trigger potentially dangerous asthma attacks.
"In evolution, odors told us what was good for us, what was bad," says Pamela Dalton, PhD, MPH, a member of The Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. "It was part of our survival system. If something smelled bad, it was toxic. If it didn't smell good or bad, it was worth investigating. If it was the smell of cooked fat, it meant survival."
In fact, scientific evidence suggests -- though far from conclusively -- that a pleasing fragrance actually affects our physiology, helping us relax.
"When animals are exposed to certain scents, there are changes in their brain chemistry and hormone levels. There is also a reduced activity level, a measurable change in their behavior. But are they relaxed? It's hard to ask them," Dalton tells WebMD. "We're also not sure what that means in terms of people."
After all, there's another factor at work: "Our expectations affect our reactions," she says. "That's why bakery smells are enjoyable, probably because they take us back to our childhood."
Taking a Peek Inside
For the best advice on pampering your snout, WebMD contacted those who know noses.
"When you've got a runny nose, the small blood vessels lining the nose become irritated," says Pedro Cazabon, MD, an internist at the Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans. "Blowing or rubbing your nose aggravates the nose skin, which is sensitive anyway."
Crazy temperature changes don't help either. In frigid outdoor air, blood vessels clamp down; warm indoor air opens them up, says Michele McDonald, MD, a professor of dermatology at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville.
"Any extremity, whether it's the nose or fingers, is affected by temperature changes because blood vessels are the first to react," she tells WebMD. "When blood vessels are clamped down, there's less blood flow to the skin, so skin becomes irritated; it's more susceptible to injury."
The lower humidity indoors and outdoors wreaks its own havoc -- further irritating nasal skin inside and out. "Your nose tends to dry out, especially the skin right underneath or between your nostrils," McDonald adds.