Why is only half your nose is clogged up at a time?

credit: Disney

When you have a cold, there’s always one nostril that’s completely stuffed, and the other still allows some air to get through. This is of course extremely annoying, and makes you talk like Porky Pig. Furthermore, after a few hours, your clogged nostril seems to have switched sides with the other one! This is not just our bodies messing with us, and trying to make us suffer any more than we need to. There’s a valid reason for this.

Your nostrils share the workload by switching sides every few hours

When you don’t have a cold, your nostrils switch between breathing duties as well. You just don’t notice it as it’s happening so subtly. This switching sides is called the nasal cycle, and 8 out of 10 people experience it. For people who have a nasal cycle; every four hours one nostril is more swollen than the other, so hardly any air can get through during this time. After this time, the other nostril becomes more swollen, and the first nostril’s swelling goes down, allowing you to breathe normally through it again.

credit: Wikipedia

Nasal cycle

The reason why all of this is happening is so that your nostrils can share the workload, and allows you to smell better. Your nose is your first line of protection for your lungs. All the dust, mucus and other things you don’t want in your lungs, get trapped in the little hairs in your nose called cilia. Cilia can get overloaded if they don’t get a breather every once in a while, which is why your nostrils switch sides. It’s to keep your nose’s duties running smoothly, and protecting your lungs from all the dirty stuff floating around out there.

credit: PBS

Because your nostrils share the workload, you can smell better

Another great and useful reason for our nostrils sharing their workload between them, is so you can smell better. You smell things because air-born chemicals are detected by the receptors in your nose, who then send a message to your brain saying “ooooh pancakes!” There are two kinds of air-born chemicals; those that are only detected when they are allowed more time to bound with your nasal receptors, and those that hardly need any time at all. The chemicals that need more time, need a slower air flow, and voila here’s where your clogged nostril comes in. Your clogged nostril still allows some air to get through, and so can still pick up these slower chemicals. The chemicals that hardly need any time at all, zoom through your clear nostril, and is picked up almost immediately.

Check out the video by Hank Green from SciShow to see some cool animations on how your nose works!