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What are Nasal Membranes?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 18, 2024
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Nasal membranes are tissue inside the nose which serve a number of functions. The bulk of this membrane is made up of a layer of nasal epithelium, with the rear area of the nose having an area covered by olfactory epithelium.

Like other surface membranes, one of the primary functions of the nasal membranes is to protect the underlying tissues and structures. It acts as a barrier to keep viruses, bacteria, and other large particles out, and they help the body retain moisture so that it does not dry out. These membranes also house numerous tiny hairs known as cilia which act to trap particulate matter which enters the nose so that it will not be inhaled.

Another function of the nasal membrane is to act as a sort of air humidifier. When people inhale dry air, they make it more moist. In extremely dry conditions, people may note that their nasal membranes start to dry out, and that this can be very uncomfortable. To keep the nose lubricated, these membranes also secrete mucus. Mucus production can increase when the nose becomes inflamed, potentially generating a runny nose.

The nasal membrane in the back of the nose connect with olfactory nerve endings. Odors dissolve in these areas and hit these nerve endings, allowing people to sense odors. The sense of smell is one of the most primitive human senses, incidentally, which is why people sometimes have such strong memory associations with smells.

Although the nasal membranes act as a block to keep large particles out, they can be highly absorptive if particles are small enough. This is why the nose is sometimes used as a route for drug delivery. The membranes are highly vascularized, meaning that they are connected to a number of blood vessels, and drugs which can be absorbed through these tissues will enter the bloodstream very quickly. Nasal delivery can be accomplished with aerosolizers which generate a spray, or with medications which are smeared inside the nose.

Like other mucus membranes, the nasal membrane tends to heal very rapidly if it is damaged. However, they can be subject to inflammation, swelling and overproducing mucus in response to a real or perceived injury or threat. Nasal inflammation is a chronic problem for some people who may be sensitive to allergens, temperature changes, environmental factors, smells, and other situations encountered by the nose.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By cougars — On Jul 16, 2010

@ GiraffeEars- There are a few more home treatments for chronic sinus infections. One is using a neti pot, as Comparables mentioned. Hot showers and steam also help to open airways, as do nasal sprays. Lots of rest and relaxation are also important.

Stress can drag down your immune system, so rest will help your immune system recover, speeding up healing time. People who have to work through illnesses often have symptoms that linger.

By GiraffeEars — On Jul 16, 2010

@ Comparables- I deal with chronic sinusitis, so I can offer some insight into sinus infection treatment and symptoms.

Some of the symptoms of sinus infections are pressure under the eyes and in the middle of your forehead. Vision impairment can also be a sign of sinus pressure. Chronic headaches at the temples or forehead, post nasal drip, and fevers are also symptoms of sinusitis.

About once a year, I have to take azithromycin, an antibiotic, to treat the sinus infection. I also make sure I use high quality indoor air filters, drink plenty of fluids to keep hydrated, and take Claritin when my sinuses begin to act up. My problems are mostly allergen related, so air pollution, mold, and pollen really make them act up.

By Comparables — On Jul 16, 2010

What are some symptoms and treatments for sinus infections? I have sinus problems three to five times a year, often going away without any more treatment than a few flushes with a neti pot, but now they are lasting longer. I don't know if I have a sinus infection, but I would like to find out. Thanks to anyone who can give me a quick answer.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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