Be Nice To Your Nose

Actors John Krasinski, Rainn Wilson and Jenna Fischer attend the after party of the West Coast premiere of the New Line Cinema film 'The Last Mimzy' on March 20, 2007 in Los Angeles, California. GETTY IMAGES/Vince Bucci

Love it or not, your nose can't be ignored. It takes the brunt of winter's harshness – often ending up red, dry, cracked, and bleeding. And yet, with a little pampering, your nose can bring comfort on cold, blustery days.

The upside to having a nose, after all, 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.

"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 this winter, WebMD contacted those who know noses.

Why does your nose suffer so in wintertime? "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.

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