To blow or not to blow?
November 30, 2007 10:17 AM   Subscribe

Should you clear your sinuses by blowing your nose or (as gross as this sounds) suck it out and spit?

Background: My Husband and I are having a disagreement. He is allergic to just about everything and when he was young his mother, a nurse, taught him to blow his nose HARD. When he blows he makes a loud honking noise. His voice always sounds kind of nasally and sometimes even his breath will smell bad. Recently he went to see an allergist and was told he has some kind of sinusitis. The Dr. advised him to quit eating milk, caffeine, alcohol and chocolate for 6 weeks, but because this is the holiday season, he's decided to wait until after the first of the year to see if this will help. No questions were asked about nose blowing.

Now here's where I need help... in the past I dated someone else with allergies and he was in the habit of sucking in to clear his sinuses and spitting. This past person told me that if you blow your nose too hard it would cause the phlegm in your sinuses to become impacted and infected. My instincts tell me that this makes sense... problem is, hubby thinks his Mom’s nursing wisdom still holds. Hubby is not motivated to ask his allergist because, well, he likes blowing his nose. Not wanting to invest in one side of the argument without facts, I ask you dear reader: Where can I find some good credible information one way or the other?
posted by vermontlife to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
When I'm stuffed up, I do both. If blowing alone isn't defeating the mucus, I open another front and attack from the flank using the ol' suck'n'spit maneuver.
posted by Caper's Ghost at 10:21 AM on November 30, 2007

I was told not to suck, as it is possible to cause ear issues with that. I am prone to ear infections though.
posted by kellyblah at 10:23 AM on November 30, 2007

Ditto here with the ears. My practice is to blow, but not hard - whatever's ready to come out will come out, the rest will be along later. I avoid decongestants and only use expectorant to that end, so that I'm not having to fight against dehydrated stuff up in my head.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:33 AM on November 30, 2007

This page says that blowing gently is all right. I am unable to find anything addressing the other procedure, which I'm inclined to do myself. (Because blowing my nose doesn't clear out my sinuses, alas.)

I'm pretty sure blowing hard enough to honk is too hard, though
posted by Meep! Eek! at 11:05 AM on November 30, 2007

Since you asked...

I find that it depends on where the mucus is coming from. Allergies like milk tend to create post-nasal drip which I simply can't blow out. I have to suck.

Colds and allergies like dust or pollen tend to make my nose run in the traditional sense and since it's already there in front, I blow.

The idea is to follow the path of least resistance.
posted by GuyZero at 11:14 AM on November 30, 2007

Like GuyZero, sometimes allergies create something I can't easily blow out. But I usually swallow (ahem), as spitting on the ground is for mouth breathers.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 11:27 AM on November 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

Coming from someone who has bad allergies, tell him not to blow hard. I used to do that all the time, and it really does not help. I've recently learned to blow more gently, and it's much more productive.
posted by entropic at 11:31 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Blow gently, please for the people who's close enough to hear you. I am sure it's not easy having to deal with congestion but it's really gross for the people near you to hear blow loudly or worse, do that sucking thing. And whatever you do, don't spit it out, that's very uncivilized.
posted by icollectpurses at 11:34 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Blowing does not clear my sinuses. Getting in a hot shower makes me feel like the bottom has fallen out of something particularly gross in my head, and I can spit out all sorts of nasty gunk that is never any where near my nasal passages.
posted by Medieval Maven at 11:39 AM on November 30, 2007

Me with a deviated septum and long-term difficulties with my nasal passages....I blow my nose in the shower, after the hot steam loosens the mucus. That works best for me, YMMV.
posted by Kickstart70 at 11:56 AM on November 30, 2007

Blow gently. Or, if needed, stick a kleenex-covered finger up there to (gross, I know) get anything else out.

Also drink plenty of clear fluids to keep his mucus thin.

Sucking and spitting just sounds uncomfortable and gross. I'd try to keep it out of my mouth if at all possible.
posted by fructose at 12:04 PM on November 30, 2007

Not a direct answer to the question, but nasal irrigation, to which I'm a recent convert, could be beneficial.
posted by BaxterG4 at 12:24 PM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

This is kind of not at all related to most people's situation, but I find that SCUBA diving works wonders for congestion, especially during ascent, when the decrease in pressure causes air in the sinuses to expand, flushing out all sorts of wonderful junk. Right into the diving mask.
posted by brownpau at 12:26 PM on November 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

If he thinks blowing his nose hard works, then why is it not working? I second the nasal irrigation. It works wonders, believe me!
posted by MrFongGoesToLunch at 12:43 PM on November 30, 2007

Nthing nasal irrigation - if he likes to blow his nose, it's very likely that he'll think it feels great, and it takes care of the impacted/infected sinuses issue.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 12:57 PM on November 30, 2007

My ENT told me to never blow my nose but that may be more specific to my issues.
posted by yodelingisfun at 1:02 PM on November 30, 2007

nthing nasal irrigation, via a neti pot. i made fun of all the hippies with their hippie nose teapots, til i had a terrible stuffy cold and finally caved and bought a neti pot. since as long as i can remember, i've only ever had one working nostril at a time (it switches, but one is always stuffy, even when i'm not sick), and within 10 minutes of using the neti pot, i was breathing through both nostrils at once. this is probably a terrible comparison, but you know when you have an awesome poop and you feel all light and frisky after? it's that exact light and frisky feeling, but for your face. get him a neti pot and some sea salt for christmas.
posted by twistofrhyme at 1:03 PM on November 30, 2007 [8 favorites]

If he has bad breath it could be due to tonsiloliths (warning: kinda gross images) building up from post-nasal drip. Sucking mucus into the mouth/throat area could potentially make it worse if he has them.

I'm a little confused as to whether the suck-and-spit is similar to the sniffle-and-swallow I tend to do when I'm congested - it sounds gross, but for me it's less gross and works better than blowing my nose. I heard as a teenager that you shouldn't blow your nose because it disrupts the cilia in your nose, but these days I hear that you should blow your nose rather than sniffling, so I'm not sure if one way is clearly better than the other.

Definitely try nasal irrigation. If you can't find a neti pot locally, there's a squeeze bottle version available at most drugstores. While I know a ton of people who swear by it, I prefer getting in a warm shower and blowing some bodacious snot rockets.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:19 PM on November 30, 2007

My ENT recommends the squeeze bottle, I use the pulse irrigator with the saline solution. YMMV, but it has worked wonders for me.
posted by 6:1 at 3:55 PM on November 30, 2007

Best answer:
"Individuals typically blow their noses much harder than is necessary to clear them of mucous. Even in individuals with large noses, the distance from the tip of the nose to the beginning of the throat is less than four inches. It does not take a huge amount of effort (and certainly no noise) to clear those four inches even if it were completely full of mucous. ...[W]hen we blow our nose hard we get a reflex nasal congestion... Remember, a congested nose will ultimately cause a sinus infection." (Gailen D. Marshall, MD, 01/30/03)
Blowing, even relatively gently, pushes snot into the sinus cavities, where it can cause sinus headache or sinus infection. Blowing hard can cause middle ear infection. Blowing hard, especially with the nostrils blocked, can rupture an eardrum.

Sounds like his nose blowing technique could have led to the very condition that he's being treated for.

Here's a published study you can give his mom to update her son.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 5:42 PM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

The non-hippie version of the neti-pot is Sinus Rinse.

I caved and bought it when I had a sinus infection, and it cleared me out like you wouldn't believe. I was giddy for an hour.

Just take care not to blow your nose hard while using it, as your eardrums will freak out.
posted by Doctor Suarez at 5:53 PM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

+1 on the tonsiliths. I have terrible allergies, and occasionally i start to get bad breath and feel like I have some mucus stuck in the back of my throat. Usually it goes away, but only after some seriously disgusting clearing of the back of my throat. I figure snot gets stuck there and starts to smell. Gross. Anyway, attempting to stop some of the really hard blowing might help, but only doing the back of the throat method makes things gross back there. Suggest he gargle with some warm salt water, maybe try the sinus irrigation thing (esp. after a hot shower) and try an expectorant. Going to an ENT might also be worth it, because try as I might I can't see what's going on back there. Doing a little spelunking might help him figure out what's going on back there.
posted by MadamM at 6:32 PM on November 30, 2007

Nasal irrigation, and regular exercise.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:05 AM on December 1, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your great answers and links! Much appreciated!
posted by vermontlife at 1:28 PM on December 4, 2007

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