To sniff or to blow? How you’re really supposed to deal with a snotty nose
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To sniff or to blow? How you’re really supposed to deal with a snotty nose

Katja Fischer
25.1.2024
Translation: Katherine Martin

It’s that time of year again. Everywhere you look, people are sniffling and spluttering, heartily blowing their noses into tissues. Here’s why it’s technically okay to inhale your snot.

Some sounds drive me nuts. And the sound of someone with a runny nose giving it an almighty sniff is certainly one of them. Yuck! The thought alone makes me shudder. Unfortunately, my daughters often get snotty noses in the winter months, so they’re prone to noisy bouts of sniffling. Either because they’re too lazy to grab a tissue or, at least in my four-year-old’s case, because they haven’t got the hang of blowing their noses yet.

From «It’ll give you a headache!" to «You’ll only get better if you let it out!» to «You’ll have snot coming out your ears in a minute!», I’ve probably said every imaginable thing in hope of putting an end to the disgusting sniffling. All knowing full well that these are just classic lies parents tell their kids. Or are they? Time to put these snot myths under the microscope.

The benefit of sniffing

Turns out there really are good reasons not to blow your nose. If you blow it into a tissue, you’ll soon transfer pathogens to your hands, subsequently spreading them to door handles and other objects and allowing them to pass on to other people. It’s particularly nasty if you use the same handkerchief more than once because your hands will come into contact with the snot multiple times. So cloth hankies are clearly the worse choice over paper tissues.

Another bonus of simply snorting up your snot is that when you sniff, the mucous is transported down your throat and into your stomach, where your stomach acid gets rid of it. It’s like your body’s own waste disposal unit.

According to Irene Berres, writer of «Der Spiegel’s» Myth or Medicine column and author of a book of the same name, sniffing presents a different problem altogether. As is the case with sneezing, you shouldn’t do it too vigorously.

Strong pressure can push mucus from the nasopharynx into the adjacent sinuses and turn a harmless cold into painful sinusitis. Or the pathogens get into the middle ear, triggering an infection.

Writing on the ear issue, Berres cites a US study in which four healthy people who didn’t have a cold received a contrast medium in their nasopharynx for test purposes. They were then asked to blow their noses vigorously. All participants ended up with the contrast medium in their sinuses.

No free pass for stomach-churning snuffling

To sum up, sniffing doesn’t do any harm as long as you’re not overzealous about it. The same could be said for blowing your nose. As long as you’re not blowing forcefully at trumpet-level volume or using the same hanky over and over, it’s all good.

While this is all handy to know, it doesn’t mean my kids will get a free pass to sniffle in future. Not least because it’s shockingly gross and makes me shudder.

Still, kids have a tough time blowing their noses properly. They can’t usually do it themselves until they’re three or four years old. This article describes some playful ways to help them learn:

  • Guide

    3 tips to teach children how to blow their nose

    by Katja Fischer

Header image: Shutterstock/LarsZ

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Mom of Anna and Elsa, aperitif expert, group fitness fanatic, aspiring dancer and gossip lover. Often a multitasker and a person who wants it all, sometimes a chocolate chef and queen of the couch.


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