Nasal Cilia

These microscopic filaments cover the surface of the tissue in the nose.  The cilia are bathed in nasal mucus.  The mucus moisturizes the air but also, like fly paper, filters dust (and other allergens and particles), chemicals, bacteria and viruses that enter our nose as we breath. 

The cilia are always at work , refreshing the mucus coating of the nose.  In coordinated waves, they sweep a layer of mucus to the back of the nose every 5-8 minutes.  The mucus then slips into the throat where it is swallowed, rather than inhaled into the lungs.  The acid of the stomach destroys the harmful nasal debris.

Unfortunately, there are some conditions that cause the cilia to stop working. The cilia can be paralyzed by cold temperatures, cigarette smoke and some medications, such as antihistamines, or damaged by excess dryness.  When the cilia do not work well, we have trouble with nasal crusting and sinus infections. 

Conditions that decrease cilia activity

  • Dry air
  • Inhalation of air or steam above 40 degrees centigrade
  • Cold air or liquids
  • Sulphur dioxide, ozone, smog, chromium dusts, cupric (copper) compounds, nickel dusts; chimney dusts, cigarette smoke
  • Nasal polyps
  • Bacterial and viral infections
  • Codeine
  • Cocaine
  • Antihistamines
  • Hyperbaric oxygen
  • There are also some medical conditions that affect how well the cilia work.  Some inherited diseases cause the cilia to move poorly or not function at all.  Cystic fibrosis is an example of a disease that causes several problems including poor ciliary movement.

Agents that increase cilia activity

  • Ciliary activity can also be improved with warm, salty water.  This is one reason that nasal saline irrigations (link to product section and the saline recipe) (particularly ones that do not contain the preservative benzalkonium) can be very effective in cleaning the nose and reducing sinus infections, crusting and bloody noses.
  • Guaifenesin
  • Hot chicken Soup, Hot tea
  • Corticosteroid nasal sprays 
  • Pseudoephedrine


Alliance ENT ††† Main Office: 845 North Main St., Providence, RI 02904 ††† Phone: (401)331-9690 Fax: (401) 331-9609
Email: ~ Please Note, this is for general information only, not medical emergencies

© 2013 Alliance ENT, Inc.