8 Health Secrets Hidden in Your Nose

After being cooped up indoors for weeks to avoid the freezing temperatures, it's very easy to catch a cold or even the flu. Determining that something is wrong can be as easy as following your nose.

“The flu causes nasal congestion, postnasal drip, and it can turn into a sinus infection, but in general, influenza is going to present with severe fatigue, fevers, chills, and you feel totally wiped out,” Madeleine R. Schaberg M.D., M.P.H., Director of Endoscopic Sinus, Rhinology, and Skullbase Surgery at New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai in New York City, told As for a cold, that should come with “thick, white and gross discharge.”

Sneezing, constant running and excessive mucus are all simple ways to tell that you're getting sick. Combined with the time of year, it shouldn't be difficult to understand what your nose is telling you.

Different seasons and weather can provide context for your health problems, but not everything detected by your nose is related to a cold or the flu.


You might assume that sneezing and a runny nose means you have a cold. A lot of the time that you would be correct, especially in the winter months when cold and flu cases peak, but not always.

If your nasal annoyances occur in spring or fall it could be due to a seasonal allergy.

“[Unlike colds] allergies just keep going and going,” said Dr. Schaberg. “A cold will run its course in about seven days. Allergies in general will be prolonged — it's not like they will only last for a few days. Even seasonal allergies will last for months.”

Dr. Schaberg also said that “allergies are generally much less severe, and associated with itching in the eyes, ear, nose or throat. Sneezing happen with allergies [more than with a cold].”


This scary condition can occur out of nowhere, making it very difficult to prevent or predict. One of the early signs of a stroke can be smelling a "phantom smell," also known as phantosmia.

“Generally with phantosmia a patient might complain about only smelling cigarette smoke when there is none,” said Dr. Schaberg. “It’s usually difficult to tell what the cause is.”

The American Academy of Neurology lists stroke as a condition associated with this disorder, but phantosmia can come with other head injuries, upper respiratory infections, brain tumors, seizures and many other conditions as well.

Generally with smell hallucinations, though, there is nothing majorly wrong. But if you notice a strange smell that no one else around you notices that doesn't have an obvious origin, the problem could be in your brain, and not in your trash.


Can you actually smell your own death?

No, but lack of smell could be a bad sign.

Recent research published in the journal PLOS One has found that people who lost their sense of smell later in life died shortly after, sometimes serving as the strongest predictor of five-year mortality.

The study looked at 3,005 adults aged 57-85 between 2005 and 2011. Researchers found that adults who lost their sense of smell had over three times the odds of death compared to those with a normal sense of smell.

Dr. Schanberg pointed out that loss of smell commonly happens in individuals over the age of 65.

“The problem with loss of smell is that, for people below 65, losing your smell is very uncommon, unless you have something blocking the passageway,” she said. “Above the age of 65, approximately 50 percent will [start to lose] their sense smell, similarly to hearing. It's just the natural aging process.”

Alzheimer's Disease

Although losing your sense of smell might just be a sign of old age, and not necessarily a mortality predictor, Dr. Schanberg did say that it is one of the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

“[Losing the sense] usually kicks in later in life so a lot of people will lose their of smell without [Alzheimer’s], but loss of smell is still one of the first signs,” she explained.

Parkinson’s Disease

Dr. Schanberg said the same thing applies to Parkinson’s disease, as it does to Alzheimer’s disease. Although both conditions commonly affect older people, who should be expected to lose their sense of smell anyway, the symptom is also one of the earliest signs of Parkinson’s disease.

“[Loss of smell] is a little bit different for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s [compared to old age or death],” she said. “Both of those conditions have shown that a loss of smell is one of the first signs, for sure.”

Sinus Infection

A sinus infection causes the nasal passages to not drain properly because of inflammation, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center.

This problem could cause an infection which will require an antibiotic.

Nasal congestion/discharge and a postnasal drip could be signs of sinusitis, as well as headaches, sore throat, fever, cough, fatigue and bad breath, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.