Nasal Anatomy & Function

Your sense of smell, the nose and it's components, or rather the olfactory organ, is a very complex process of changing scents into neurotransmissions that your brain then processes to determine was is sweet, sour, noxious, spoiled, etc. The process begins by inhaling an odor which is then carried into a network of passages and is transmitted and sorted out by the rhinencephalon:

plural - la 
: the anterior inferior part of the forebrain that is chiefly concerned with olfaction and that is considered to include the olfactory bulb together with the forebrain olfactory structures receiving fibers directly from it and often esp. formerly the limbic system which is now known to be concerned with emotional states and affect --called also smell brain (Merriam-Webster Medical Dictionary)

Of course there is no real need for the sense of smell but there are certain needs for maintaining balance in temperature and moisture although even this is not necessary for life sustenance. The turbinate structures are responsible for maintaining this harmony and without this it sometimes reported that disorientation, headaches and musosal dryness can ensue when the turbinate structure is not in proper order.

All in all, I do realize that  you are more than likely concerned with appearance rather than function although, with secondary and tertiary rhinoplasty loss or hindrance of function is unfortunately a reality for many.  From difficulty breathing to headaches, from post-surgical nasal drip to depression - there is more to rhinoplasty than aesthetics.

Understanding The Structure Of The Nose
To understand how the appearance of the nose is changed from within or to alleviate functionality problems, one must understand how the external nose is supported and what must be done to the underlying nasal structure in order to achieve these desires and goals. One must also realize that changing one thing can, in turn, change another or at least affect it in some way. This must always be taken into account so it is very important to find a highly skilled surgeon to carry out your surgery. Revision Rhinoplasty should be carried out to improve matters and not to worsen them.

The Nose According To A Genius - Henry Gray  (1821–1865)
Henry Gray, a legend in his own time, author of Anatomy of the Human Body - explains the human anatomy piece by piece, cell by cell, function by function. It is Henry Gray that I believe can best explain the structure of the nose with the aid of his extraordinary engravings. I will include additional visual aids, in plain English, to assist you in your understanding of the nose. *You will more than likely need our Online Rhinoplasty Glossary to translate the terminology used. This section will load in a new, smaller window for your convenience. You may want to keep it open to ease of reference.

The Peripheral Olfactory Organ

"The peripheral olfactory organ or organ of smell consists of two parts: an outer, the external nose, which projects from the center of the face; and an internal, the nasal cavity, which is divided by a septum into right and left nasal chambers.

the External Nose (Nasus Externus; Outer Nose)—The external nose is pyramidal in form, and its upper angle or root is connected directly with the forehead; its free angle is termed the apex. Its base is perforated by two elliptical orifices, the nares [nostrils], separated from each other by an antero-posterior septum, the columna [or columella] . The margins of the nares are provided with a number of stiff hairs, or vibrissæ, which arrest the passage of foreign substances carried with the current of air intended for respiration. The lateral surfaces of the nose form, by their union in the middle line, the dorsum nasi [or simply, dorsum], the direction of which varies considerably in different individuals; the upper part of the dorsum is supported by the nasal bones, and is named the bridge. The lateral surface ends below in a rounded eminence, the ala nasi.

Structure.—The frame-work of the external nose is composed of bones and cartilages; it is covered by the integument, and lined by mucous membrane.

 The bony frame-work occupies the upper part of the organ; it consists of the nasal bones, and the frontal processes of the maxillæ.

normalateralis_skull.gif (67465 bytes) normafrontalis_skull.gif (70980 bytes) nasalbone_maxilla.gif (53669 bytes) nasal_orbits.gif (41418 bytes)
Norma  Lateralis Norma Frontalis

nasal bone & maxilla junction

The Orbits (orbitæ)

click diagrams for a larger image

The cartilaginous frame-work (cartilagines nasi) consists of five large pieces, viz., the cartilage of the septum, the two lateral and the two greater alar cartilages, and several smaller pieces, the lesser alar cartilages.  The various cartilages are connected to each other and to the bones by a tough fibrous membrane.

nasalcartilages.gif (31817 bytes)

cartilage (lateral)
click diagram for a larger image

The cartilage of the septum (cartilago septi nasi) is somewhat quadrilateral in form, thicker at its margins than at its center, and completes the separation between the nasal cavities in front. Its anterior margin, thickest above, is connected with the nasal bones, and is continuous with the anterior margins of the lateral cartilages; below, it is connected to the medial crura of the greater alar cartilages by fibrous tissue. Its posterior margin is connected with the perpendicular plate of the ethmoid; its inferior margin with the vomer and the palatine processes of the maxillæ.

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cartilage (below) septum (lateral)

click diagrams for a larger image

It may be prolonged backward (especially in children) as a narrow process, the sphenoidal process, for some distance between the vomer and perpendicular plate of the ethmoid. The septal cartilage does not reach as far as the lowest part of the nasal septum. This is formed by the medial crura of the greater alar cartilages and by the skin; it is freely movable, and hence is termed the septum mobile nasi.

The lateral cartilage (cartilago nasi lateralis; upper lateral cartilage) is situated below the inferior margin of the nasal bone, and is flattened, and triangular in shape. Its anterior margin is thicker than the posterior, and is continuous above with the cartilage of the septum, but separated from it below by a narrow fissure; its superior margin is attached to the nasal bone and the frontal process of the maxilla; its inferior margin is connected by fibrous tissue with the greater alar cartilage.

The greater alar cartilage (cartilago alaris major; lower lateral cartilage) is a thin, flexible plate, situated immediately below the preceding, and bent upon itself in such a manner as to form the medial and lateral walls of the naris of its own side. The portion which forms the medial wall (crus mediale) is loosely connected with the corresponding portion of the opposite cartilage, the two forming, together with the thickened integument and subjacent tissue, the septum mobile nasi. The part which forms the lateral wall (crus laterale) is curved to correspond with the ala of the nose; it is oval and flattened, narrow behind, where it is connected with the frontal process of the maxilla by a tough fibrous membrane, in which are found three or four small cartilaginous plates, the lesser alar cartilages (cartilagines alares minores; sesamoid cartilages). Above, it is connected by fibrous tissue to the lateral cartilage and front part of the cartilage of the septum; below, it falls short of the margin of the naris, the ala being completed by fatty and fibrous tissue covered by skin. In front, the greater alar cartilages are separated by a notch which corresponds with the apex of the nose.

The integument of the dorsum and sides of the nose is thin, and loosely connected with the subjacent parts; but over the tip and alæ it is thicker and more firmly adherent, and is furnished with a large number of sebaceous follicles, the orifices of which are usually very distinct

The arteries of the external nose are the alar and septal branches of the external maxillary, which supply the alæ and septum; the dorsum and sides being supplied from the dorsal nasal branch of the ophthalmic and the infraorbital branch of the internal maxillary. The veins end in the anterior facial and ophthalmic veins.

The nerves for the muscles of the nose are derived from the facial, while the skin receives branches from the infratrochlear and nasociliary branches of the ophthalmic, and from the infraorbital of the maxillary.

septumnerves_lateral.gif (47182 bytes)
nerve structure (lateral)
click diagram for a larger image

the Nasal Cavity (Cavum Nasi; Nasal Fossa)—The nasal chambers are situated one on either side of the median plane. They open in front through the nares, and communicate behind through the choanæ with the nasal part of the pharynx. The nares are somewhat pear-shaped apertures, each measuring about 2.5 cm. antero-posteriorly and 1.25 cm. transversely at its widest part. The choanæ are two oval openings each measuring 2.5 cm. in the vertical, and 1.25 cm. in the transverse direction in a well-developed adult skull.

Inside the aperture of the nostril is a slight dilatation, the vestibule, bounded laterally by the ala and lateral crus of the greater alar cartilage, and medially by the medial crus of the same cartilage. It is lined by skin containing hairs and sebaceous glands, and extends as a small recess toward the apex of the nose. Each nasal cavity, above and behind the vestibule, is divided into two parts: an olfactory region, consisting of the superior nasal concha and the opposed part of the septum, and a respiratory region, which comprises the rest of the cavity."


Turbinate Structures: More than Moisturizing
[2] (noun)

First appeared circa 1803

: one of usu. several thin plicated membrane-covered bony
  or cartilaginous plates on the walls of the nasal chambers

This internal structure is responsible for moisturizing the nose and the air that you breathe. It can also change and control the temperature of the air that we breathe into our sinus. If too cold and dry we can get headaches and experience bleeding from dryness. If too damp from overproduction of mucous we experience what is called rhinorrhea.  I presently have this and am probably going to have a portion of my turbinates cauterized. I did not have this affliction until after my primary rhinoplasty. Ever since my primary I have had a nonstop nasal drip. It is said that I could be experiencing this from the primary infracture (or bone breakage) to narrow the nose. It can also me due to scar tissue from these infractures or from trauma.

sinus_lateral.gif (62760 bytes) nasalconchae.gif (52418 bytes)
sinus (lateral)
turbinates (conchae)

Lateral wall of right nasal cavity showing inferior concha in situ.

*click diagrams for a larger image*

Would You Like To See Actual Photos Of The Turbinate Structures As Seen With An Endoscope?

Another Excerpt from: Anatomy of the Human Body  by Henry Gray (1821–1865).  

(Concha Nasalis Inferior; Inferior Turbinated Bone)

The inferior nasal concha extends horizontally along the lateral wall of the nasal cavity and consists of a lamina of spongy bone, curled upon itself like a scroll. It has two surfaces, two borders, and two extremities.  The medial surface  is convex, perforated by numerous apertures, and traversed by longitudinal grooves for the lodgement of vessels. The lateral surface is concave, and forms part of the inferior meatus. Its upper border is thin, irregular, and connected to various bones along the lateral wall of the nasal cavity. It may be divided into three portions: of these, the anterior articulates with the conchal crest of the maxilla; the posterior with the conchal crest of the palatine; the middle portion presents three well-marked processes, which vary much in their size and form. Of these, the anterior or lacrimal process is small and pointed and is situated at the junction of the anterior fourth with the posterior three-fourths of the bone: it articulates, by its apex, with the descending process of the lacrimal bone, and, by its margins, with the groove on the back of the frontal process of the maxilla, and thus assists in forming the canal for the nasolacrimal duct. Behind this process a broad, thin plate, the ethmoidal process, ascends to join the uncinate process of the ethmoid; from its lower border a thin lamina, the maxillary process, curves downward and lateralward; it articulates with the maxilla and forms a part of the medial wall of the maxillary sinus. The inferior border is free, thick, and cellular in structure, more especially in the middle of the bone. Both extremities are more or less pointed, the posterior being the more tapering.

Merriam-Webster Medical Dictionary
Graylab Online Medical Dictionary - UK
Anatomy of the Human Body, Henry Gray (1821–1865)
Online Version of Anatomy of the Human Body - 
Verbal and Online Interviews with:

  • Richard Ellenbogen, M.D.

  • James J. Romano, M.D.

University of Iowa Family Practice Handbook, 3rd Edition, Chapter 19; 
Otolaryngology: Nose; Mark A. Graber, M.D. and Laura Beaty, M.D.

Illustrated Encyclopedia of Human Anatomic Variations:

  • Ronald A. Bergman, PhD
    Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology
    University of Iowa
    Iowa City, Iowa, USA

  • Adel K. Afifi, MD, MS
    Departments of Pediatrics, Anatomy and Cell Biology, and Neurology
    University of Iowa
    Iowa City, Iowa, USA
  • Ryosuke Miyauchi, MD
    Department of Anatomy
    Fukuoka University
    Fukuoka, Japan

Olfactory Disorders, Dept. of Otolaryngology, UTMB, Grand Rounds; November 17, 1993:

  • Kelly Sweeny, M.D.
  • Karen H. Calhoun, M.D.
  • Melinda McCracken, M.S.


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