Is Nose Hair Essential to Fighting Off Colds and Other Viral Illnesses?

Is Nose Hair Essential to Fighting Off Colds and Other Viral Illnesses?
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Is Nose Hair Essential to Fighting Off Colds and Other Viral Illnesses?

Is Nose Hair Essential to Fighting Off Colds and Other Viral Illnesses?

Is nose hair essential for fighting colds and other viral illnesses? I ask the question as a woman who, before the pandemic, used to pluck my eyebrows. The person doing the waxing would always recommend plucking my nose hair.

A medical “truism” holds that the hairs of the nose filter the air we breathe and therefore protect us from infections by viruses, bacteria and other pathogens in the air. But, as is often the case with truisms, its history may be more venerable than verified.

The idea that our nose hairs, medically known as vibrissae, might offer protection against infectious germs dates back over a century. In 1896, two English doctors, writing in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, noted that:

The interior of the vast majority of normal nasal passages is perfectly aseptic [sterile]. On the other hand, the vestibules of the nostrils [nostrils], the vibrissae that line them and all the scabs that form there are usually teeming with bacteria. These two facts seem to show that the vibrissae act as a filter and that a large number of microbes meet their fate in the damp meshes of the hair which border the vestibule.

The conclusion of the English doctors may seem logical, but at this point no one had really investigated whether trimming nose hair could make it easier for germs to penetrate deeper into the airways.

It was not until 2011 that the density of nose hair was rigorously studied as a possible correlate of the disease. In a study of 233 patients published in the International Archives of Allergy and Immunology, a team of researchers from Turkey found that people with denser nose hairs were less likely to have asthma. The researchers attributed this finding to the filtering function of nasal hair.

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Their observation was interesting, but it was an observational study that cannot prove cause and effect, and asthma is not an infection. The researchers also did not conduct follow-up studies to assess how trimming nose hair might affect the risk of asthma or infection.

It wasn’t until 2015 that doctors at the Mayo Clinic performed the first, and so far the only, study to examine the effects of trimming nose hair. Researchers measured nasal airflow in 30 patients before and after trimming nose hair and found that trimming resulted in improvements in both subjective and objective measures of nasal airflow. Improvements were greatest for those who initially had the most nose hair. The results were published in the American Journal of Rhinology and Allergy.

Again, an interesting finding, but does better nasal airflow correlate with a higher risk of infection?

Neither study addressed this question directly. But Dr David Stoddard, lead author of the Mayo Study, noted that if someone is working with drywall, for example, “I can tell if they just left work thanks to the white dust trapped. in the hairs of his nose. But it is the larger particles that are trapped in the hairs of the nose. Viruses are much smaller. They are so small that they will probably go through the nose anyway. I don’t think trimming their nose hair would put them at an increased risk of respiratory infection. “

Based on the limited study of nose hair, there is no evidence that trimming or waxing it increases the risk of respiratory infections. And as at least one expert who has worked in the field has speculated, that’s probably not the case.

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