Emily Oster

2 min Read Emily Oster

Emily Oster

Is It Better to Blow My Nose or Wipe It?

Q&A on the fastest recovery from a cold

Emily Oster

2 min Read

My husband and I disagree on how to handle our toddler’s frequent snotty noses. I grew up in the Netherlands, and tissues weren’t really a thing in my life, let alone blowing your nose a lot — if you had a snotty nose, you just did a big inhale snort (or a wipe with your jacket sleeve). He, on the contrary, thinks inhaling snot will prolong the sickness and wants our son to always blow in a tissue (“blow! blow! blow!”). In my experience, blowing your nose too often during a cold can lead to painful forehead sinuses and doesn’t necessarily cut the cold short. What’s the best way?

—Snotty Mama 

Okay, so, first I am going to discourage the sleeve wipe, just because it leaves snot all over your sleeve, which can be yucky for the person who washes the clothes.

But on your question of blowing versus sniffing — this led me down a bit of a rabbit hole, and I learned, among other things, that reading about this tradeoff makes me extremely ill. But ParentData is undeterred!

First: Neither blowing your nose nor sniffing and swallowing (ew, argh, this is very hard to write) is going to decrease or prolong the length of a cold. Clearing mucus in some way can be important for staying comfortable and, in kids, can sometimes be helpful in preventing ear infections from developing. But these are not a treatment for a cold (for you or your kids). So in this sense, you are both wrong.

The primary concern with nose blowing is that it generates a lot of pressure and can force mucus up into your sinuses. Sinus CT scans show this happens often. The pressure can also — in very extreme and rare cases — cause other injuries (like this case report of a woman with a swollen eye from excessive nose blowing).

Obviously you shouldn’t blow your nose so hard that you injure your eye, and in general the recommendation seems to be to blow “gently.” But whether the mucus-in-sinuses is really a significant medical issue is less clear.

Either way of clearing your kid’s nose is probably fine. Perhaps more important: if it is not bothering your kid, you can probably just leave it alone. Unless they are wiping it on the sleeve.

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