The nose is an interesting place! Have you ever wondered how your nose actually detects airflow? How does it let your brain know that breathing is working? We all know what “stuffy” feels like, but how does that information get to your brain? The secret is closely related to the major function of the nose, to heat and moisturize the air that we breathe.
Ever notice how cold air or mentholated products can make your nose feel more open? The nose actually uses nerve receptors that sense cold (or cooling) to let your brain know that air is moving through it. As the air moves across the surface of the nose, the nasal lining (also called mucosa) transfers heat to warm it up. Also, water in your mucous gets absorbed by the air through evaporation. The net effect of both of these “transfers” is to cool the nasal lining.
This cold/cooling effect is detected by a nerve receptor called TRPM8 (also known as the cold/menthol receptor). Scientists have also figured out that certain chemicals directly stimulate this receptor. As one would expect, menthol is one of them. Chemicals in many plants that we might associate with a “cool feeling” do as well. These include: Eucalyptus, Citronella, and Mint, and Lavender. So the next time you use a mentholated cough drop or body rub, think about whether you’re breathing better or if we just tricked the cold receptor into thinking you are!
Want to know more about breathing? Register for our upcoming webinar “A Conversation with James Nestor” bestselling author of Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art. Want to know more about how the nose, inside and out? Check out our anatomy page!