Understanding Your Nasal Passages

Your complex system of nasal passages and the parts that make them go can be confusing. Here are the tools you need to know about when navigating your nose.
ADVENT SinusesSinuses - DIagramTurbinates DiagramSinus Diagram
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Published on
February 11, 2020
Updated on
September 2, 2021

You might hold it when you jump in the water.

You might praise it when you smell something good.

And you might curse it when it gets congested.

You know that your nose is an integral part of your airways but what do you know about the pieces that fit together to make it all work? Let's take a deeper dive into understanding your nasal passages.

Down to the basics

Your nasal passages, also referred to as sinuses, are hollow spaces in the skull around your nose, cheeks, and forehead. These cavities act as a filtration system that leads to your lower airways (e.g. throat) and act as passages for mucus drainage.

Types of sinuses

Each person has four different pairs of sinus cavities collectively referred to as the paranasal sinuses. Each pair's name corresponds to the bone they are in:

  • Frontal sinuses are located in the middle of the base in your forehead.
  • Sphenoid sinuses reside behind your eyes deep within your skull near the optic nerve. Your pituitary gland is also housed in the sphenoid bone.
  • Maxillary sinuses sit on each side of your nose near the cheek bones and above your teeth. This is the biggest pair of sinuses you have.
  • Ethmoid sinuses are stationed on each side of your nose. There are three pairs of ethmoid sinuses on each side of your nose and are layered on top of one another. This where people often feel the most pressure when they have sinus infections.

Your sinuses are an important part of your respiratory system. They connect your nasal passages with the airways in your throat to create a breathing network you rely on every second of the day to operate effectively. If even one of these pairs of sinuses become congested, swollen or closed completely your airflow can become obstructed and hinder your regular breathing and sleeping patterns.


What gives with the snot?

Sinuses also create the mucus we so often complain about. But instead of complaining, you should be praising the mucus as it is much more essential than you think. That is, unless, you've got too much snot to handle.

Mucus lines and lubricates the walls of your nasal passages. It's helped along through the nasal passages by cilia (little hairs in your nose that are deemed unsightly but are crucial to your health). The pair work together to help filter incoming dust, bacteria, and other debris through the nasal passages and deposits it into the back of the throat to be swallowed.

That's one well-oiled - erm, mucused - machine.

The Great Nasal Wall

As you pick your way up the nasal passages, you'll notice there's a hard wall separating your nostrils. This wall of bone and cartilage is called your septum. The septum acts as the divider between your left and right nostril and runs down the middle of your nose…sometimes. Most people, approximately 80%, have a deviated septum which is the displacement of the septum.

What's a turbinate?

Also buried inside of your nose are your turbinates. Your turbinates are shell-shaped structures made of thin bone covered in a squishy mucous membrane. They regulate the moisture and filter the air that moves in and out of the nasal passages.

There are three levels of turbinates that get smaller as you move up the nasal passage. The turbinate closest to the nostril opening is the inferior turbinate which, ironically, is the biggest of the turbinates. Moving up from there you'll find the middle turbinate followed by the superior turbinate.

Turbinates Diagram

Solving a problem

A common cause of nasal pain is a disturbance in your turbinates. When colds, allergies, and infections attack your nasal passages, they target your turbinates. When enlarged, turbinates can be painful and restrict natural airflow. To reduce turbinate swelling, ADVENT uses simple, in-office solutions like the balloon sinuplasty to return your nose to its peak breathing condition.

Now that you have a better idea of the inner workings of your nose, you may find that your breathing problems can be solved much easier than you think.

First published by ADVENT on
February 11, 2020
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Understanding Your Nasal Passages