How to (and How NOT to) Sneeze and Blow Your Nose
Sniffling, sneezing, coughing and blowing your nose probably
seem like second nature to you -- and you likely don't put
much thought into any of these "natural" occurrences.
But maybe you should.
Blowing your nose produces over seven times the pressure
in your nasal cavities than sneezing or coughing.
It is actually possible to injure yourself from coughing
and sneezing in an improper way, and how you blow your nose
may affect the duration of your illness.
When Sneezing and Coughing Turn Dangerous
Back injuries are one of the most common "side effects"
of sneezing and coughing. Baseball player Sammy Sosa knows
this first-hand. Back in 2004 when he played for the Chicago
Cubs, two sneezes sent his back into spasms, causing him to
need a chair to support himself. The injury -- a sprained
ligament in his lower back-- caused him to miss part of the
A vigorous coughing or sneezing attack can leave you with
upper or lower back pain (or spasms) because of their forceful
nature, not only on your entire torso but also on your abdomen.
This pressure is so intense that it can actually herniate
a weakened spinal disc.
How to "A-Choo" Safely
Right before you sense a cough or sneeze coming on, take
a few seconds to position your back correctly. Doing so will
protect your back and help keep any existing pain to a minimum.
Lean back slightly, placing a hand behind your back for
When you sneeze or cough, bend your knees slightly.
You can also (instead of above) stand up straight against
a wall or door to keep your back from lurching forward
when you sneeze or cough.
Blowing Your Nose: Good or Bad?
Commonsense would tell us that blowing our noses during a
cold would help remove some of the illness-causing bacteria
or viruses contained in the mucus, thereby helping us to feel
better faster. But it turns out this may not be entirely true.
According to Dr. Owen Hendley and a team of researchers from
the University of Virginia and the University of Aarhus in
Denmark, blowing your nose may actually cause mucus to be
propelled back into the sinus cavities.
Not surprisingly, blowing your nose creates a huge amount
of pressure in the nose -- over seven times more pressure
than is produced by sneezing or coughing.
A hearty sneeze can injure an unsupported back.
The researchers placed an opaque dye into the rear nasal
cavities of 10 study participants in order to determine whether
the fluid would enter the sinus cavities. Three of the volunteers
were asked to cough, three were induced to sneeze and four
blew their nose. After measuring the fluid's movement with
a CT scan, Hendley said:
"In the those who coughed or sneezed, there was no
dye in any of the sinuses. And in all four of those who
did the nose-blowing, there was dye in one or more of the
sinuses ... with a nose blow, given the amount of pressure
and how long it went on, you could move one milliliter of
nasal mucus into the sinuses."
The problem with this, Hendley pointed out, is that "if
you do propel mucus into your sinuses during a cold -- which
I'm suspecting you would -- then not only is it mucus but
it's mucus that's likely to contain bacteria, virus and may
also contain mediators."
"It appears that it's quite likely that if you do blow
your nose, then there's a potential you could be worsening
your cold," he said.
How to Correctly Blow Your Nose
Sometimes, though, the relief that comes from blowing your
nose may be enough for you to risk a potentially longer cold
duration. When you do blow your nose, there is a proper technique
that can both minimize the risk of mucus traveling back up
your sinuses and reduce your risk of injury.
When you consider that adults blow their noses an average
of 45 times a day during the first three days of a cold, proper
technique could make all the difference.
Blow your nose gently. Blowing too hard creates even
more pressure that can force infectious mucus into your
ears and sinuses.
Avoid the "both-nostrils-open" blow. Instead
Press a finger over one nostril.
Gently blow your nose into a paper tissue through the
one open nostril.
Switch your finger to close the opposite nostril, and
Although you will feel most "stuffed-up" when
you first wake up (after lying flat all night), don't
blow your nose immediately. It's best to wait five or
10 minutes after you've been sitting upright before doing
Drink plenty of fluids. This will make it easier for
mucus to be removed by blowing gently. Blowing your nose
after taking a steamy shower can also help.
Use paper tissues rather than cloth handkerchiefs. A
used handkerchief is a breeding ground for germs -- and
when you reuse it you're spreading those germs around
your face and hands.
Only use a paper tissue once, then throw it away. This
minimizes the risk of putting germs back onto your face
Wash your hands when you're finished, as germs from your
nose and tissue will be transferred to your fingers while
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