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What the Nose Knows

What the Nose Knows

But it can hold a lot of information about your health, including some important indications that everyone should be aware of.

Mucus. Everybody has it, but it’s not exactly a pleasant topic for conversation! A runny nose with clear secretions is perfectly normal. The white blood cells your body uses to fight a virus or bacterial infection can turn your mucus yellow. But if you continue to secrete yellow mucus for more than 10 days, or if it turns green, call your doctor. You might need an antibiotic to clear up the infection.

Nosebleeds. Occasional, brief nosebleeds that usually result from a mild trauma or dry sinuses are normal and generally harmless. But if you are experiencing frequent nosebleeds for no apparent reason, or wake up with blood on your pillow, or have prolonged nosebleeds that are difficult to stop, talk to your doctor. Medication may be the culprit, but high blood pressure or even a rare clotting disorder could also be to blame, so it’s important to get to the cause and discuss treatment options.

Decreased sense of smell. Our ability to detect dangerous smells or fumes can save lives. But if you notice your sense of smell isn’t as keen as it once was, don’t just accept that it’s part of getting older. It could be a symptom of a harmless growth or polyp that can easily be removed. But it could also be an early sign of diabetes, or a whole host of brain disorders including Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and more.

Phantosmia (phantom smells). If you occasionally smell something that doesn’t seem to bother anyone else, you might just be more sensitive to that particular smell. A lingering sinus infection can also cause you to smell (or taste) something unpleasant. If an infection is the cause, it should go away in a few days or weeks. A phantom smell could also be an early indicator of a migraine.

But if you frequently smell something that nobody else does, it can be distressing, impact your appetite and decrease the quality of your life. It could also be a sign of a serious health issue such as epilepsy, a head injury, brain tumor or other brain disorder. See your doctor immediately in any case, but go to the emergency room if a head injury is a possibility.

A specific (and usually pleasant) smell can evoke specific memories more readily than any of our other senses. It can also warn us of danger – or even simply remind us that it’s time to take dinner out of the oven. That’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor immediately if you notice any changes or if something just doesn’t seem right. The nose really does know a lot about your health, so let it be your guide.


This article first appeared in the November 2018 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.