Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Among other things the nose and throat help us breathe, smell and swallow.

Among other things the nose and throat help us breathe, smell and swallow.
beginning of content

Nose and throat

2-minute read

Your nose is the main organ responsible for your sense of smell. Your throat is the main part of your body responsible for swallowing.

Your nose and throat also have other functions, such as carrying air to the lungs.

Connections between your nose, throat and ears mean that a problem in one area can spread to the others.

How your nose works

As you breathe in, your nose:

  • cleans the air of foreign particles
  • warms and humidifies the air before it reaches your lungs.

This is helped by the thin moist lining of your nasal passages and throat, called mucosa.

The cells in the lining of your nose also sense aromas and send messages to your brain. This gives you your sense of smell.

How your throat works

Your throat, or pharynx, sits behind your nose and your mouth and is connected to both of them.

The pharynx is a muscular tube that carries both food, drinks and air. As it goes down, it splits in two – the oesophagus and the larynx.

The oesophagus is the tube that leads from your throat to your stomach.  It carries food and drink.

The larynx carries air. The larynx also contains your vocal cords which produce sound, allowing you to speak. Air passes through the larynx into the trachea and then into the lungs.

Obviously, you need a way of keeping air and food apart. This is done by the epiglottis, which is a small flap of cartilage in the back of your throat. It closes over the larynx when you swallow so that you don’t breathe in food or water.

Problems in your nose and throat

The connections between your nose and throat, sinuses and ears, mean that fluids can move from one area to another. This is how a cold becomes a sinus, throat or ear infection.

Visit your doctor if your symptoms continue for more than a week, or you have other symptoms such as a fever or rash.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: December 2017

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Ear, nose and throat

Find health conditions articles related to ear, nose and throat.

Read more on WA Health website

Head and neck cancer support

Information for people diagnosed with head and neck cancers.

Read more on WA Health website

Sinus and nasal problems -

Most sinus problems are due to allergy, infection, or a foreign substance inhaled up the nose. Find out what products are available for sinus and nasal problems.

Read more on myDr website

Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib)

Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) is a bacterium commonly found in the upper respiratory tract (windpipe, back of mouth and nose).

Read more on WA Health website

Meningococcal disease

Meningococcal disease can be life-threatening. The disease is a result of a bacterial infection of the blood and/or the membranes that line the spinal cord and brain.

Read more on WA Health website

Parvovirus B19 infection (fifth disease, slapped cheek, slapped face, erythema infectiosum) - including symptoms, treatment and prevention :: SA Health

Parvovirus B19 infection (fifth disease, slapped cheek, slapped face, erythema infectiosum) is a mild illness but may be transmitted to the foetus

Read more on SA Health website

What are the effects of smoking and tobacco? | Australian Government Department of Health

Within 10 seconds of your first puff, the toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke reach your brain, heart and other organs. Smoking harms almost every part of your body and increases your risk of many diseases. Smoking also affects how you look and feel, your finances and the people close to you.

Read more on Department of Health website

Whooping cough (pertussis) - including symptoms, treatment and prevention :: SA Health

Whooping cough or pertussis is a highly contagious disease caused by bacteria and is spread by coughing and sneezing or contact with secretions

Read more on SA Health website


Diphtheria is a serious disease that makes it hard to breathe or swallow. It is caused by a toxin (poison) made by bacteria.

Read more on WA Health website


Pneumonia is a serious lung infection caused by a virus or bacteria.

Read more on WA Health website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo