Even though it is not allergy season, many people find their nasal breathing gets more difficult and they have much more crusting in their nose during the winter months. There are actually good reasons why this occurs, and some simple remedies.
First, a word about how your nose works for you. Besides the aesthetics of the nose (which you may love, hate or be neutral about!), your nose has important bodily functions. We all know that it is involved in breathing, but did you know it is about 10 cm, or 4 inches, long from front to back? And that you move about 700 cc (two thirds of a litre) of air through your nose every second? Or that your nose is such an amazing air conditioner that it heats up the outside air from even the coldest day to almost body temperature within the fraction of a second it moves through your nose? It also is the origin of your sense of smell, and even plays a role in selecting a mate (through sensing pheromones) and your sexual response (think nasal congestion). But more of that another time…
The important role your nose plays in humidifying the ambient air is what you may notice more in winter. Cold air is generally less humid than warm air – it cannot hold the water vapour as well. And so it may have a humidity of about 25 or 30%, even with your humidifier working full-time. In fact, the nose functions best with the humidity around 55%, and so the nasal mucosal lining tends to dry out in the winter.
But where does all this crusting come from? Your nose actually secretes about 1 litre a day (yes, that much!) mucus. When normally functioning, the little hairs, or cilia, in the nose waft the mucus to the back of the nose to the throat, where it is swallowed. How many times? About 1,000 times a day, but you don’t usually notice this unless your nose isn’t functioning properly.
Because your nose is dry, the mucus dries out before it can be moved, and forms crusts. If they stick to the superficial blood vessels at the front of your nose, you may even get some tinges of blood as the crust is pulled away with blowing your nose.
The answer to this problem? If you are not fortunate enough to go south for the winter, start by placing some ordinary petroleum jelly (a.k.a. Vaseline) in your nostrils, and sniffing it upwards into the nose, once or twice a day. This will soften the crusts and allow the mucociliary blanket to move them backwards better, or blow them out easier. If you still have a problem, tear a cotton ball in half, cover it in petroleum jelly, and place it in one nostril for three or four hours. This rests the nostril and allows cleaning of the crusts. Then change sides as needed. Once you place the cotton fluff, your breathing will shift to the other side quickly so it will not be uncomfortable. And… keep your environment well humidified. Finally, we should all pray for an early spring!