What the Inside of Your Nose Reveals
Have you ever wondered why your health care provider looks inside your nose during an examination? When a patient has a runny nose or congestion, the health care provider needs a good look at the source of the problem.
Health care providers will look inside your nose as part of a routine healthy full physical exam. They will also look inside your nose when they suspect other problems, such as an infection or allergy. Sometimes, they're looking for other sources of your breathing problem, such as a deviated septum, which is a shifting of the wall that divides the nasal cavity into halves.
The health care provider will use a lighted scope, such as an otoscope, or another light source with an instrument called a nasal speculum, to get a clear view of about 1 1/2 to 2 inches inside your nose if there is no congestion.
One of the first things he or she will notice is color. The color of your nasal membranes should be pink, the same color as healthy gums.
If your nasal membranes are bluish or pale and appear swollen, the doctor may suspect you have allergic rhinitis, an inflammation caused by a nasal allergy. If this is the case, you might have a clear-to-white nasal discharge, and he or she might prescribe antihistamines or a nasal steroid to reduce the swelling.
If your nasal membranes are more red than pale and the discharge is thick and yellow, the doctor will suspect an infection. If your infection involves the nose, throat, and ears and you have no fever or only a slight one, the doctor might suspect a cold virus. Viruses often move around in the body. Many patients will ask for an antibiotic when they have a cold, and many doctors will explain that antibiotics may work against bacteria but are powerless against a virus. For a viral infection in the nose, doctors can prescribe decongestants to treat the symptoms.
If you have a fever, with tenderness around the bridge of your nose and at the top of your cheeks, the health care provider will suspect a bacterial infection that has invaded your sinuses.
Mucus in the sinuses usually drains into the nasal passages. When you have a sinus infection, those passages are not able to drain properly because of inflammation. This can lead to infection, which might be treated with an antibiotic.
Not all nasal problems are caused by allergy and infection. You can be born with a deviated septum or develop one from a broken nose. In both cases, nasal breathing can be difficult. Sometimes surgery is necessary.
When a provider looks inside your nose, he or she may notice a nasal polyp, a growth on the mucous membrane. Sometimes, these polyps must be removed. Some patients with polyps have asthma. Some have symptoms including asthma and aspirin or NSAID sensitivity. If you have all of these symptoms, it's called Samter's triad.
- MMI board-certified, academically-affiliated clinician
- Turley, Ray, BSN, MSN