Does anyone know, off-hand, the actual cubic volume of the human sinuses? Because if the amounts of snot I’m generating are any indication, it’s in the gallons.

I tried looking this up, but mostly I got scholarly articles that didn’t answer my question.

Inquiring minds want to know.

Posted by Gwen Pearson

Writer. Nerd. Insect Evangelist. Have you heard the good news? BUGS!


  1. Maybe you’re actually part hagfish?

    Unhelpful, I know. Sorry! Hang in there. :)

  2. You too, huh? I’m convinced that the virus responsible for the common cold has mutated to infect computers and spread itself across the Internet. At least this strain, because you’re about the 4th person I’ve heard of across geographical divides who is also fighting a cold.

  3. A little Googling turned up this journal article abstract:

    which says the typical maxillary sinus volume is around 24 cc for young men and 15 cc for young women. Further research indicates that the maxillary sinuses are the biggest so doubling that figure would seem a reasonable approximation for the entire paranasal sinus system, at least for the purpose of estimating snot production. 30 to 50 cc is a couple of fluid ounces, so if the whole system fills and drains four or five times a day we’re talking a full cup of snot.

    Yuck. Even worse, I think this means that when we have colds men must be more snotty than women due to the significantly larger empty spaces in our heads.

  4. When I was a teenager, taking my A-Levels, I hypothesised that when you get a bad cold, your brain is removed and replaced with mucus – or possibly that the bacteria that give you the cold EAT your brain and produce mucus as a by-product. This was after spending the most miserable 3 hours of my life in a history exam (in which I had the mother of all runny noses, no tissues, and no way of resolving either situation,) partly because it was the only explanation for the sheer amount of goo coming out of my nose, and partly to explain my imminent Very Poor Grade (which, thankfully, only turned out to be Quite Poor.)

  5. Based on the Wikipedia article on paranasal sinuses, I’m guessing it’s the frontal sinus that’s the source of mucus…and the frontal sinus article says:

    Their average measurements are as follows: height, 3 cm.; breadth, 2.5 cm.; depth from before backward, 2.5 cm.

    This is also reasonable considering that the volume of the maxillary sinus ranges from 4.56-35.21 cm3

    Taking the usual caveats about Wikipedia articles into consideration, this would suggest that your nasal discharge is driven by production, rather than standing stock of snot. :)

    I hope you feel better. Head colds suck.

  6. Oy. Fortunately for me my sinuses have been pretty even tempered. I know that they can be a real, uhh, pain. Hope you feel better!

  7. Oh, thank you very much!
    See, even my googling is affected….

    But now I know, which for some odd reason makes me feel better. It’s like my compulsion to look up words I don’t know–it bothers me until I can get to a dictionary.

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