Leaving your nose exposed amid the pandemic poses a double risk

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  • Monday, 07 Sep 2020

Rail security workers checking if people are following the guidelines and wearing face masks to curb the spread of the coronavirus. — dpa

The troubles began on a train in Germany, where these days, riders must wear masks.

“There’s a reason why it’s called face mask. The next stop will be the last stop for you, if you don’t cover your nose immediately, ” an attendant shouted at two men on the Munich train.

The men shrank away at the attendant’s strong words and harsh tone but covered up as instructed.

It’s safe to suggest that the attendant put into words what everyone else was thinking.

Mask wearing is not as straightforward as it might seem.

Early in July, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on people to be sure to cover their noses, too, when wearing a mask, according to the news site PoliticsHome. Scientists had warned that Britons were “skeptical”, lagging behind other countries when it came to wearing mandatory face covering.

It is, after all, vital to wear face masks and to wear them properly, says the German Association of Otorhinolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery. “The highest virus density is usually not found in the lungs, but in the upper respiratory tract, especially in the nose and nasopharynx, ” experts note.

Other medics say that ACE2 receptors, through which coronaviruses can enter the body, are found in many organs: the lungs, the cornea and, above all, the nose.

That means leaving your nose exposed amid the pandemic poses a double risk, creating an entry and an exit point for the coronavirus.

Sure it’s easier to breathe if your mask doesn’t cover both mouth and nose, especially on hot days when sweat can drip under the mask.

It was July when the British government finally made wearing face masks mandatory. Now, those failing to cover their mouth and nose properly in shops, public buildings or on public transport face fines of up to £100 (RM555).

The nose, located right in the middle of the face, plays an ambiguous role: You can smell with it, wrinkle it or pick it. They are central to our lives, a fact underlined by phrases from “as plain as the nose on your face”, to “right under your nose”, or that someone “turns their nose up”.

“The nose is a central element of the human personality. It’s the focus of visual attention and plays a decisive role in shaping the aesthetic effect of the face, ” is the view of the German Society of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons.

“Being unhappy with the shape of one’s nose creates a high degree of personal suffering and a weakening of self-esteem, ” the doctors say.

People choose to have operations on their noses for these reasons – as well as if they have respiratory problems, for example. Nose jobs are among the most common plastic surgeries, and more than 450,000 nose and sinus operations were carried out in Germany in 2018 alone, say the country’s statisticians.

Such operations don’t always involve straightening, reducing or enlarging the whole nose, though. “The tip of the nose and nostrils can also be corrected, ” the surgeons say.

When it comes to fire, smoke or chemicals, noses are also life savers. Unfortunately, though, the importance of the sense of smell is often underestimated, says Germany’s otorhinolaryngology, head and neck surgery association.

Nowadays we know that people lose their sense of taste, too, if they can no longer smell, a sense that decreases with age. Smells also trigger memories.

All in all, leaving your nose exposed is potentially perilous these days.

Noses play a key role in the course of Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

While a cough and fever are the main symptoms, according to the Robert Koch Institute – Germany’s disease control agency – one in five people also winds up with a runny nose.

Some 15% of Covid-19 patients lose their sense of smell or taste, suffering from anosmia, derived from the Greek word for smell, and referring to the complete absence or loss of smell.

So noses matter, a fact people were slow to discover, evidenced by the 2004 Nobel Prize for Medicine. That year, US researchers Richard Axel and Linda Buck won the award for describing around 1,000 genes that play a role in olfactory receptors.

Meanwhile, “A big nose is the sign of a witty, chivalrous, kind, generous, outspoken man, and a small one is a sign of the opposite, ” is a bon mot ascribed to French writer Cyrano de Bergerac, who lived from 1619 to 1655 and had a famously large nose himself.

The eyes and mouth play a more communicative role, however, when we smile, laugh or cry, which is why emojis usually don’t have noses – they aren’t needed.

The exception is the emoji for lying – a face with a long nose like Pinocchio’s – not a particularly positive connotation, however. – dpa/Marco Krefting

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Pandemic , face masks


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