I AM THAT LITTLE hill that rises from the center of your face-your nose. You worry about your eyes, ears and digestive tract but tend to think of me as a nuisance. I water on winter days, sneeze at the wrong time, clog with a cold, and tend to get smashed in accidents. There are colorful and poetic allusions to other facial features-eyes, ears, and lips. But not to me. I am kept to the grindstone, one pays through me, and nothing is plainer than the nose on a face.
But I am an important organ in your body, and do numerous jobs that you are unaware of. If you go to sleep on your left side for example, and my left nostril will gradually become engorged. In about two hours I send out a silent signal-I don't want to awaken you-which causes you to turn over. This is one of several trigger mechanisms that lead to movement, preventing your muscles from being cramped in the morning.
Automatically, I sniff your victuals before you eat, to protect you from spoiled food that might poison you. Much of your pleasure in eating comes through me. Let me smell a broiling steak and I crank up salivary glands that make your mouth water and start the digestive juices flowing. As you have noticed, when my capabilities are blunted by sickness, as by a cold, your food is tasteless, and you lose appetite and weight. Without my stimulus you will become a picky eater.
Another thing. You have a pleasant, deep voice. In part you have me to thank for that, I contribute some resonance. Try pinching your nostrils whilst you speak and you'll hear the difference I make.
Architecturally, I am nothing to boast about. I am sandwiched in between the roof of Joe's mouth and his brain. In reality, I am two noses, since a septum, or partition, divides me in two. Above your mouth I have a rather cavernous interior, my workroom. I also have small hollows in the bones on each side-in the cheeks, in the frontal bone over the eyes, in the wall between the eyes, and me and at the back of my main cavity. These hollow spaces make up my eight sinuses. They contribute some of the moisture I need to humidify air, make a slight contribution to voice quality and lighten Joe's skull, but mostly they cause trouble. Bacteria slip in to cause infection and blockage of the narrow channels that empty into my main passages. Then Joe is in for painful, headachy misery.
One of my major tasks is cleaning and conditioning the air for Joe's lungs. Each day I must process about 500 cubic feet of air-a small roomful. Joe may be skiing on a frigid, dry day, but his lungs aren't interested in dry, zero degree air. They want about what one would find on a humid summer day-75 to 80 percent saturated, temperature in the 90s. They demand air almost totally free of bacteria, and cleansed of grit, smoke and other irritants. The air conditioner for a medium sized room is as large as a small trunk. My air conditioning system is compressed into a tiny area only a few inches long.
For the humidifying job, I secrete about a quart of moisture a day. Mostly this is sticky mucus, produced by the spongy led membrane that lines my passages. While the rough cleaning job is done by hairs in Joe's nostrils, it's the in mucus that does the major work, acting as a kind of flypaper to trap bacteria and particles that get past the hairs. Naturally, I can't permit this film of mucus to stagnate. In a few hours there would be total pollution. So every 20 minutes I produce a clean new mucous blanket.