Mucus: the key to clearer airways
Ear, nose and throat researchers will be looking up nostrils to find answers about how well snot protects the nasal airways from the bacteria and fungi we breathe in.
In the first part of the two-part study, researchers from Flinders University and Flinders Medical Centre will take mucus samples from about 40 people, including those who frequently suffer from nasal and sinus infections and healthy people, to determine how effectively the mucus kills bacteria and fungi.
ENT Medical Scientist Dr Charmaine Woods said the body produced particular chemicals – known as cationic antimicrobial peptides – which were released into the mucus to help protect the nose from infection.
"These chemicals have particular characteristics, which allows them to kill bacteria and fungi," Dr Woods said.
"We will compare the effectiveness of these chemicals in protecting the nose between people with nasal disease and healthy people.
"We are expecting that in those with nasal disease, these chemicals will not be functioning."
Dr Woods said mucus would be collected from the participants using a small piece of foam which is inserted into the nasal cavity and left for 10 minutes. The mucus would then be examined in the laboratory to see how well it could kill some common airway microbes.
The second part of the study will investigate the effectiveness of saline-based nasal irrigation solutions, which are commonly used by people suffering nasal and sinus infections to help clear their nasal passages.
"We’ll also be focusing on saline-based irrigation solutions, which people squirt up their nose to wash away dust or allergens and to thin the mucus, which makes it easier to breathe," she said.
"Our hypothesis is that the salt content of these irrigation solutions may be too high and stop the natural antimicrobial peptides in the mucus from working properly.
"This could be important for people who are prone to nasal and sinus infections.
"It could mean that we start putting more of a focus on irrigation solutions that have a lower salt content."
As part of this section of the study, at least 10 people with normal, healthy noses will be asked to take part in four ‘irrigation days’. On each day one irrigation solution will be tested, and mucus will be collected from the participant’s nose before and after one hour, six hours and 24 hours to see how long it takes for the antimicrobial peptides in the mucus to come back and be functional.
"After one hour we expect there will be no activity or a low level, and over 24 hours we would expect it to have come back to baseline levels," Dr Woods said.
Dr Woods hopes to extend these same theories to children once this study is complete.