Why our noses are different shapes
Left: The nasal bone structure of a person of African origin. Right: Nose of a person of European origin.
March 20th, 2013
12:06 PM ET

Why our noses are different shapes

There are pouches on each side of the human nose below the eyes that are called maxillary sinuses. They're involved in sinus infections, so you may already have a bias against them.

But Nathan Holton, a postdoctoral research fellow in the department of orthodontics at the University of Iowa, wanted to find out why there's such variation in these structures, and how they are affected by variation in the nasal cavity. A study on the subject is published in the journal The Anatomical Record.

Holton and colleagues took computed tomography scans of 40 people. About half of them were European-Americans, and the other half were African-Americans or native South Africans.

They found that the bigger the volume of the nasal cavity, the bigger the maxillary sinuses, in both populations. This is also associated with the overall face size, the researchers said, and suggests that the maxillary sinuses play a role in allowing the nose shape to vary. It appears that the sinuses make room for the nose.

But when the face size is about the same, maxillary sinuses tended to be 36% larger in people of European ancestry than of African ancestry because Europeans tend to have narrower nose shapes.

The various shapes of noses appear to be tied to adaptations to climate, Holton said. The nose must properly heat and humidify the air that you breathe. In a cold climate, it's advantageous to have a narrower nose. That's so that when a person inhales, more air comes into contact with the mucosal surface of nose, which provides moisture. The narrow nose maximizes the surface area.

"The fact that we have sinuses seems to allow for this accommodation of variation in nasal shape, which seems to be important, in evolutionary terms, with regard to climatic adaptation," Holton said.

The maxillary sinuses probably do not serve an important purpose in terms of nasal respiratory function, he said.

soundoff (103 Responses)
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    November 29, 2016 at 05:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. riad

    nice ❤

    December 15, 2016 at 16:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. riad

    i really liked this article, thx ❤

    December 15, 2016 at 16:24 | Report abuse | Reply
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    I don't agree, look at:
    – Angila

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  5. classystreetfreaksheet

    Why are the pro's of only a narrow nose explained? Is there some kind of bias preference going on? it's kind of insulting and you should think about the underlying implications you may be sending out by doing so... it really makes you first look like a poor researcher and an unreliable source.

    June 19, 2017 at 13:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. kevin byrd

    evolved??? we did not evolve we have become more subject diseases and complications mostly due to our diet of processed foods and to much sugar etc... we are the same as when we were created as fo evolved a little common sense should tell the story what we lacked to survive would have died not adapted or do some believe in magic? takes more faith to believe some wild idea than to believe we were created the earth and universe are ordered not chaotic or evolving into something else we are precisely where we belong on the orbit around the sun and it's not a circle we travel to have our seasons everything is the way it belongs to make the cycle of life and death or flourish and subside only to repeat itself over and over these are ordered principles not random not by some explosion or whatever can be dreamed up but by the LORD GOD the CREATOR

    January 15, 2019 at 22:19 | Report abuse | Reply
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