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An Important Role of the Nasal Cycle


The nasal cycle is one of the physiological processes that take place within the body without a slight knowledge of a person. Josephson says that the nose has two parallel nostrils (breathing passages) which are separated by a septum (a wall of cartilage) (17). These two passages are joined at the back of the throat to form a single tunnel that moves down to the lungs. According to Huizing and de Groot, many people always wonder why it is important to have the two nostrils (58). It is common to play around by closing one nose in order to use the other. However, few people, mostly those with medical backgrounds, understand the nasal cycle. According to Papel, nasal cycle is the automatic switching of the breathing process from one nostril to another (121). The idea that both nostrils function equally at all times unless one is suffering from cold flue or in case of physical blockage of one of the nostrils is a misconception. Richard Kayser, a German doctor, first noticed this cycle in 1895. Since then, there have been developments in this field, and currently, it is a known fact that this cycle is very important in various ways. In this study, the researcher seeks to confirm that the nasal cycle plays an important role in enhancing the capacity of the nostril to purify air and have a better sense of smell.

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According to the research by Van De Water and Staecker, every normal person has a nasal cycle, a systematic alternation of the nostril in the breathing process (41). The study by Bluestone revealed that close to 90% of the world’s population experience a normal nasal cycle (95). The process takes place involuntarily without the knowledge of a person. Even when one is sleeping, the nasal cycle will not be affected, and this partly explains why a person would change the sleeping position from time to time involuntarily without knowing about it.

The Process of Shifting Between the Nasal Cavities

According to Kennedy and Zinreich, the process of shifting between the basal cavities is one of the most interesting processes that nose specialists have been studying in the recent past (29). In most of the cases, this process takes place involuntarily and automatically without any form of conscious involvement of a person. The nostrils system understands the workload that they can sustain for a given period. According to Georgalas and Fokkens, each nostril can sustain the workload for approximately four hours (76). Within this period, one nostril will be responsible for the breathing process. During this time, the second nostril will not be completely closed. It will be playing a dormant role in the breathing process. What it will be delivering may not meet the demands of the body. Once this period elapses, there will be an automatic alternation, and the second nostril will take over the workload. The cycle continues changing from time to time in order to enhance the breathing process.

According to Kennedy, sometimes some of the activities that one engages in at a given time may affect the nasal cycle (84). For instance, when one deliberately blocks one of the nostrils for one reason or the other, the pattern may be altered. If the blocked nostril was undertaking that task, the other nostril will be forced to take over this function as a matter of urgency. Another possible alteration may be in cases of sickness. When one is suffering from cold flue and one of the nostrils is blocked, the remaining nostril will be overburdened because it will be forced to function for periods longer than what would be considered normal. According to McCaffrey, in some cases, the nasal cycle will take place even when one has the flue in order to improve the quality of air that one takes (56). A prolonged period of sleeping on one side, probably when one is sick, may also affect this pattern of nasal cycle. A physical damage or injury of one of the nostrils may also alter the smooth flow of the nasal cycle.

Mechanisms of Chemical or Physiological Changes

It is important to understand the physiological changes that take place during the process of nasal cycle. According to Wetmore, the entire process of the nasal cycle is supported by an erectile tissue that is found within the nostril (85). The erectile tissue at the nostril functions involuntarily based on the constraints that may affect the function ability of any of the nostrils. When it is necessary for the right nostril to take over the active role of breathing from the left nostril, the erectile tissue on the left nostril will expand, closing the air passage through the left nostril. On the other hand, there will be a simultaneous contraction of the erectile tissues in the right nostril, opening the passage for air down the lungs. Although the erectile tissues are generally stimulated involuntarily based on the needs of the system, it may sometimes be affected by the gravity. When one lies on one side, the erectile tissue on that particular side will start to swell after about 12-15 minutes because of the gravitational force, closing that nostril. On the other hand, the tissues on the side that is up will shrink, forcing the nostril to open up. In order to ensure that the cycle continues without any physical interference, the body will demand for a regular shift in position in order to be comfortable. According to Kountakis, the entire system is entirely a physiological process that is dictated by the erection and contraction of erectile tissues within the nostril (128).

Correlation Supporting the Hypothesis

The research by MacDonald looks at the relevance of the nasal cycle in the physiological well being of a person (29). According to this study, one nostril has the capacity to deliver all the demanded air into the lungs and eliminate unused air without any strain. However, the sensory systems at each of the nostril and the muscles may need to relax in order to be rejuvenated. That explains the relevance of having the two nostrils. It helps in ensuring that when one of the nostrils is performing the normal role of breathing, the other nostril can relax in order to be ready to take over the role after a short while. This explanation helps in explaining the phenomenon of nasal cycle. The breathing system understands its weaknesses, and knows how best these weaknesses can be addressed.

Nasal cycle ensures that there is a consistent inflow and outflow of air to and from the lungs without any interruptions. The findings from Volcheck help in validating the research hypothesis that was set early (71). According to the findings of this study, when a nostril takes time to rest, it will be in a better position to purify the air. During the time it will be taking off duty, the mucus secretion will help clean the tunnel ready for another round of gas passage. Kheirandish and Gozal, who say that when the nostril is in a passive mode, the mucus helps in cleaning the tunnel in readiness for the task ahead, also support this claim (85). According to Doty, the ability of the nostril to pick a scent in the air may be affected by dust congestion in the nostril (37). The duct would block the sensors, making it difficult to pick a smell. Taking time to get rid of the dust helps in improving the capacity of the nostril to pick up a given smell. This is a further confirmation of the hypothesis set in this study.

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The nasal cycle is one of the involuntary processes within the body that always go unnoticed among many people. The systematic shifting of the breathing tunnel from the left to the right nostril plays a significant role in enhancing the function of the nostril. This cyclic pattern of this phenomenon happens even when one is asleep. The fact that the process is affected by the gravitational force makes one shift from one side to the other involuntarily when asleep. Nasal cycle is very important because it facilitates the natural cleaning of the nostril so that it can be in a better position to smell and purify the air that one breathes from time to time.

Reference List

Bluestone, C. Pediatric Otolaryngology. Philadelphia: Saunders; 2003.

Doty, R. Handbook of Olfaction and Gustation. New York: M. Dekker; 1995.

Georgalas, C, Fokkens, WJ. Rhinology and Skull Base Surgery: From the Lab to the Operating Room: an Evidence-Based Approach. Stuttgart: Thieme; 2013.

Huizing, E, de Groot, A. J. Functional Reconstructive Nasal Surgery. Stuttgart: Thieme; 2003.

Josephson, J. Sinus Relief Now: The Groundbreaking 5-Step Program for Sinus, Allergy, and Asthma Sufferers. New York: Penguin Group; 2006.

Kennedy, D. Rhinology: Diseases of the Nose, Sinuses, and Skull Base. New York, NY: Thieme; 2012.

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Kennedy, D, Zinreich, J. Diseases of the Sinuses: Diagnosis and Management. Hamilton: B.C. Decker; 2001.

Kheirandish, L, Gozal, D. Sleep Disordered Breathing in Children: A Comprehensive Clinical Guide to Evaluation and Treatment. New York: Humana Press; 2012.

Kountakis, S. Rhinologic and Sleep Apnea Surgical Techniques. Berlin: Springer; 2007.

MacDonald, M. Your Body: The Missing Manual. Farnham: O’Reilly; 2009.

McCaffrey, T. Rhinologic Diagnosis and Treatment. New York: Thieme; 1997.

Papel, I. Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. New York: Thieme; 2009.

Van De Water, TR, Staecker, H. Otolaryngology Basic Science and Clinical Review. New York: Thieme; 2006.

Volcheck, G. Clinical Allergy: Diagnosis and Management. Totowa: Humana Press; 2009.

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Wetmore, R. Pediatric Otolaryngology Principles and Practice Pathways. New York: Thieme; 2012.

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