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What are Nares?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Nares are the external openings of the nose, better known to many laypeople as the nostrils. The nares connect to the nasal passages, allowing animals to inhale through their noses. In addition to being an opening for the intake of air to breathe, the nostrils are also used for smelling, with odor-sensitive organs located inside the nose to process and interpret olfactory information. This information is used for everything from pursuing prey to identifying milk that has gone off and should not be consumed.

A single nostril is known as a naris. The nose actually has two sets of nostrils, with the second set located inside the nose where they are not visible. The nares are separated by a structure known as the septum. In some people, the septum is crooked or broken down, and this can interfere with breathing. In some cases, the septum is absent or significantly damaged and instead of having two nasal passages, people effectively have one large open cavity inside the nose.

The nares are lined with fine hairs that are designed to trap particulates so that they cannot enter the trachea and the lungs. They are also lined with mucus produced by the cells inside the nasal cavity. The mucus keeps the nostrils lubricated so they do not dry out as air passes by, and it also acts to snag material before it hits the trachea so the lungs are not irritated by pollen, dust, and other materials.

The size and shape of the nares can vary considerably between people and is dependent in part on the overall shape of the nose. Sometimes people choose to have cosmetic surgery on the nose to change the shape of the nose or nostrils for aesthetic reasons. Plastic surgery is also used to reconstruct the nose if it has been injured and to address congenital defects that interfere with the ability to breathe comfortably. Surgical procedures may also be performed on people with sleep disorders related to variations in the structure of the nose to address the disorder and help the patient breathe more easily.

In addition to serving a number of biological functions, the nares can also serve as a handy point for delivering medication. The nose absorbs medications readily through its mucus membranes, and some drugs are prepared as nasal sprays or inhalers that are puffed into the nose. Medications can also be rubbed inside the nose. Delivery through the nose allows drugs to be quickly absorbed into the bloodstream so that they can start working quickly.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By umbra21 — On Apr 22, 2013

@Mor - I hope he ended up with a decent nasal cycle as well. It's something that people don't notice at all until it doesn't work anymore. Basically it's just the tissue of each nostril getting an increased blood supply so that it produces more mucus. It swaps between nostrils, I assume, to make sure your nose doesn't get blocked.

Sounds gross, but it actually keeps your nose moist and able to process air properly, so it stops it from getting an infection and becoming much grosser.

By Mor — On Apr 21, 2013

@croydon - My favorite word like that is epiglottis, which is the flap that protects the lungs so you don't breath food into them while you eat.

One of my friends have a deviated septum, which isn't quite as bad as missing it altogether, but was still quite uncomfortable for him and it made one of his nostrils look bigger than the other (although, ironically, he could barely breath through his nose). It came from his brother throwing him off the bed when he was a kid and breaking his nose.

It took him something like three surgeries to get it fixed up, mostly because the first surgeon he went to wasn't very good. The last one was a bit of a risk as well, since he was running out of cartilage, but luckily it went really well.

By croydon — On Apr 20, 2013

I'll have to remember that the singular of nares is called a naris, as that seems like the kind of thing that might come up on Jeopardy someday!

There are a lot of strange words like that for parts of the body you don't really think about. I mean, the only time I've ever really thought about the septum is when I've heard horror stories about people who manage to destroy theirs through snorting too many drugs.

There are some terrible photos online if you're curious as to what that would look like, but it is pretty horrible, so don't seek them out if you don't want the image burned in your mind.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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