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February 12, 2009

BehindTheMedspeak: 'She blew my nose and then she blew my mind'

Long story short: Blowing your nose is a bad idea and can cause sinus infection.

Here's Anahad O'Connor's "Really?" column from this past Tuesday's New York Times Science section to set you straight.


The Claim: Never Blow Your Nose When You Have a Cold

The Facts: Blowing your nose to alleviate stuffiness may be second nature, but some people argue it does no good, reversing the flow of mucus into the sinuses and slowing the drainage.

Counterintuitive, perhaps, but research shows it to be true.

To test the notion, Dr. J. Owen Hendley and other pediatric infectious disease researchers at the University of Virginia conducted CT scans and other measurements as subjects coughed, sneezed and blew their noses. In some cases, the subjects had an opaque dye dripped into their rear nasal cavities.

Coughing and sneezing generated little if any pressure in the nasal cavities. But nose blowing generated enormous pressure — “equivalent to a person’s diastolic blood pressure reading,” Dr. Hendley said — and propelled mucus into the sinuses every time. Dr. Hendley said it was unclear whether this was harmful, but added that during sickness it could shoot viruses or bacteria into the sinuses, and possibly cause further infection.

The proper method is to blow one nostril at a time and to take decongestants, said Dr. Anil Kumar Lulwani, chairman of the department of otolaryngology at the New York University Langone Medical Center. This prevents a buildup of excess pressure.

The Bottom Line: Blowing your nose can create a buildup of excess pressure in sinus cavities.

February 12, 2009 at 02:01 PM | Permalink


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I hope that nobody's washing their clothes in their nose, that can't be healthy.

Anyhoo, am I the only oddball who only uses one hand to blow their nose? I never understood why it required two hands.

Also, does this mean that saline spray is bad for you? That's water shooting up one nostril and out the other.

Posted by: Rocketboy | Feb 13, 2009 12:06:17 AM

I'm a little baffled by the other comment.

That said, it's kind of an odd headline because they really mean "don't blow both nostrils at the same time," not "don't blow your nose."

This is something I'm intimately connected with these days, now on my second week of a cold/cough thing.

Posted by: Randee | Feb 12, 2009 3:16:32 PM

I have one of these... bought it when I lived in an apartment building with neighbors who thought the single washer/dryer was their exclusive property. I own a house (and washing machine!) now, but still use it for special items.

This little gem does a whole outfit at once, including jeans. Or a rug. Or a sheet and pillowcase.

At one load/week, $1.50 per load, pays for itself in a little over 6 months. I highly recommend it!

Posted by: kailin | Feb 12, 2009 2:08:26 PM

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