Thursday, August 26, 2010

Your “hidden hairs” and what to do about them

"Hidden hairs” tend to get a short shrift in polite Pinoy conversation. That’s understandable since “hidden hairs” are “secrets” best kept hidden, both literally and figuratively speaking.

But it’s as unwise to let your “hidden hairs”—your nose hair and ear hair—grow wild and free as it is to totally get rid of them. Hidden hairs do serve a healthful purpose, as do all the other kinds of hair on your body.

To start with, the problem with hidden hairs seems to be they’re embarrassing. Nose hairs are a problem that literally “lie hidden beneath your nose” until someone notices what look like spider legs crawling out of your nostrils. Ear hair, on the other hand, seems proof of the adage that “What you don’t know won’t hurt you,” meaning in this case that you can’t be unhappy with something you can’t see.

That is, until someone (hopefully, not the hot babe you’re dating) calls your attention to a garden of black shrubs sprouting out of your “tragus” (that rounded projection covering your ear canal). So, hidden hairs often become a real-world problem following a painful bout of public humiliation. Now what?

Don’t reach for the tweezers just yet. It pays to know something about the “enemy” you plan to eliminate. The first thing you’ve got to know is that hidden hairs are not your enemy. They might be embarrassing and might seem to have as useful a purpose as your appendix (a totally useless body part until it becomes infected), but they “Serve and Protect” like the upright policemen they really are. In sum, short hairs (like good cops) protect you from the dangers of the outside world.

The nose hair or olfactory cilia in the anterior nasal passage of each nostril is one of your body's first lines of defense against harmful environmental pathogens (germs, fungus and spores), and pollutants (dust, soot and particulate matter from exhaust fumes) that populate the dirty air we breathe nowadays.

When you inhale air through your nostrils, you also suck in whatever solid particles or pollution floats around in that air. Nasal hairs act as fibrous filters that help the nasal cavities and their mucus membranes (which secrete nasal mucus, a sticky substance) trap and prevent dangerous airborne particles from entering your respiratory system and making you sick. A lack of nasal hair could invite the transport of potentially harmful particles into the respiratory system.

Your can also consider your nose as an “air conditioner” and nose hair the filters in this air conditioner. This “air conditioning” is created both by the larger or macroscopic nose hair and by microscopic cellular strands or “nasal cilia” that line the interior of the nose. As inhaled air moves through the nasal passages, it is humidified by mucus and nose hair. Humidity is important because it prevents the respiratory system and nasal passage from drying up.

The nasal cilia also draw foreign particles and mucus up toward the oropharynx (the cavity formed by the pharynx at the back of the mouth) via a coordinated back-and-forth motion. At the oropharynx, these foreign particles and mucus are either swallowed or coughed out.

Filtered air continues towards the larynx and lungs. Nose hairs and cilia are, therefore, key defense mechanisms against harmful pathogens and solid particulate matter present in the air. This process, called inertial filtration, means the air we inhale into our lungs is very well cleaned.

That’s why some doctors discourage people from completely removing their nose hair either through plucking or cutting. Lightly trimming your nose hair using either a special scissors with rounded ends or rotary nose hair trimmers (manually operated or motorized) is the wisest choice, according to accepted wisdom.

On the other hand, some experts believe that although long nose hairs look unsightly, it would be best to allow their growth. A photo of Microsoft founder Bill Gates with blonde hairs sticking out of his nostril seems to vouch for this belief. Walking around in public with visible nose hairs, however, calls for superhuman courage in our perception-oriented society.

Frequent and constant nose hair plucking and cutting could weaken the respiratory system’s defenses and can cause breathing discomfort, according to some medical sources. Persons who choose to remove almost all their nose hair could also find themselves quite susceptible to allergy attacks, sinusitis and respiratory infections. Older people should minimize nose hair trimming because it often takes longer for the trimmed hairs to re-grow. Hence, the preference for light trimming.

An Adult Problem
While there’s a dearth of in-depth medical studies about nose hair, what’s out there suggests this problem occurs mainly among men beginning in their 30s and continues as they grow older. No one is quite sure what triggers this sudden growth, but one theory is that as men age, the hair follicles in their noses become more sensitive to the male hormone DHT (dihydrotestosterone) that stimulates unwanted hair growth. The exact relationship of DHT to nose (and ear) hair growth remains unclear, however.

And when is it time to trim nose hair? Before it becomes visible is the generally accepted answer. More specifically, it’s time to trim when nose hair falls below the line of the nostrils. Always avoid aggressive trimming inside the nasal cavities and don’t pluck out your nasal hair using your fingers or tweezers. This might lead to lesions that could result in a serious nose infection. And it’s a myth that nose hair (and ear hair) will grow back faster or thicker once you trim it.

What happens to the larger particles trapped in the nose by both the nose hairs and cilia? These wind up as “kulangot” (“snot,” “booger” or “bogey” in English). We expel boogers by nose picking (preferably in private) or by sneezing. Old dry mucus normally loosens on its own and causes a person to sneeze.

Sneezing forces out the old dry mucus through the nose. Once this is accomplished, new moist sticky mucus is forced to spread all over the nostril and nose hair, restoring the body’s first line of defense against air pollution.

Ear Hair: Not Your Crowning Glory
An American medical doctor described hidden hairs as “God’s little practical joke. . . He takes the hair from your head and puts it on your ears and nose.” Another pundit says the growth of nose and ear hair is the result of what he called “The Law of Conservation of Hair.” This “law” claims the loss of a man’s sexual energy as he ages is inversely proportional to the rate of growth of his nose and ear hair. That is, the less sexually active he is, the hairier are his nose and ears.

Kidding aside, it seems harder making a sound case for the benefits one derives from ear hair. The case for ear hair is similar to that for nose hair, however: ear hair filters out unwanted airborne particles from entering the human body, in this case the ears.

There is, however, no conclusive medical proof that men’s ears become hairier as they age. There is also no conclusive medical proof that having hairy ears makes one more susceptible to a heart attack. What is known is that some Asian ethnic groups (not Filipinos) seem more prone to having hairier ears.

Ear hair normally grows at two sites: the tragus (or the entrance of the ear) and the “pinna,” (or auricle) which is another term for the outer ear. Ear hair is more common in men than among women, for reasons that have yet to be fully explained. Some say this is another offshoot of DHT, the male hormone.

Plucking seems the best method of getting rid of unwanted ear hair regularly. Since you can’t do this efficiently by yourself, someone in your family or who loves you should do this for you. But the day when the average Pinay proves her love for her Pinoy boyfriend by plucking out his ear hairs is the day when the “uwak” turns into you know what color. It’s just not going to happen.