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Nose Blowing in Britain and Japan

The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research, now in all-pdf form. Get a subscription now for only $25 a year!

(Image credit: Flickr user Susan Sermoneta)

compiled by Emil Filterbag, Improbable Research staff

Research about nose blowing in the Roaring Twenties in Britain

A tense drama played out over a brief period in 1925, in the pages of one of Britain’s most august medical journals. We look here at the three most shocking skirmishes.

Traditional British Techniques for Blowing the Nose (1)
“Hygiene of the Nose and Naso-Pharynx,” unsigned, The Lancet, vol. 205, no. 5294, February 14, 1925, pp. 342-345.

[A]s soon as the child is old enough, he should be taught how to blow the nose. The proper method of performing this simple act is to close one nostril with the finger and to blow steadily and strongly down the other, and then to repeat the process through the opposite nostril. Both nostrils should never be closed at once during the blowing; this is obviously ineffectual in clearing the nose, and may blow discharge through the Eustachian tubes. Sniffing is an unpleasant and unsocial habit; but if a child cannot blow the nose properly, it is better even that he should sniff and swallow stagnant secretion than leave it in the nostrils....

Traditional British Techniques for Blowing the Nose (2)
“How To Blow The Nose,” A.D. Sharp, The Lancet, vol. 205, no. 5303, April 18, 1925, p. 844.

In a leading article in your issue of Feb. 14th you give a timely reminder of the hygiene of the nose, and you give careful instructions in, what you consider to be, the proper method of blowing the nose. Although you are in agreement with most text-books, nevertheless, in my opinion, it is not the proper method nor the safest method....

For many years I have urged that there is but one safe and efficient way of blowing the nose, and it is as follows. Take an inspiration through the mouth, close both lips, and blow down both nostrils. Repeat until the nose is clear. This should be the method after all douching. When a handkerchief is used it should be held loosely round the nose-no pinching of the nose.

Traditional British Techniques for Blowing the Nose (3)
“How To Blow The Nose,” C. Hamblen Thomas, The Lancet, vol. 205, no. 5304, April 25, 1925, p. 895.

With reference to Dr. A. D. Sharp’s letter... I would like to say that it is important that the child (or adult) should be taught to blow into the handkerchief and not against it, as is so usual, also to grip the upper or bony part of the nose and not the cartilaginous, so avoiding any artificial increase of intranasal pressure.... Further... where the Eustachian tube is freely patent the patient should be warned to prevent the rush of air and mucus into the middle ear by blocking the external auditory meatus with the finger or thumb of the unoccupied hand.

Research about nose blowing in the Swinging Seventies in Japan

“How to Blow the Nose — An Aerodynamic Study of the Nose Blowing” [article in Japanese], Tokuji Unno and Hiroshi Yajima, Nippon Jibiinkoka Gakkai Kaiho, vol. 80, no. 1, January 1977, pp. 11-17. The author, at Wakayanza Medical College, Japan, reports:

Although the maneuvers of nose blowing largely differ between Europeans and Japanese, it seems obvious and easy for all adults to blow their noses. Do they blow their noses properly? The purpose of this paper is to obtain accurate data of nose blowing, to analyze the maneuver, and to give good instructions to those who do not understand how to blow the nose....

The project made use of pneumotachometers:

Expiratory velocities of each side of the nose with increasing efforts were successively recorded by two pneumotachometers arranged in parallel. Expiratory velocity, volume and time of nose blowing through each side of the nose as well as both sides were repeatedly measured....

The pneumotachometers produced data, which Unno and Yajima collected much as a handkerchief collects the ejecta from a sneeze:

A mean value of the maximum expiratory velocity in nose breathing was 1.87 LPS, while that of nose blow through one side was 1.81 LPS. The epiratory volume of a nose blow was 1.34 L and the time was 1.23 SEC in average. These values were slower, smaller and longer than those of coughing or sneezing....

Nose blowing was measurably a phenomenon involving — in some but not all cases — both of a human’s two nostrils:

The velocity in less patent side is increased by closing the nostril of more patent side. This is the reason why one side of the nose is blown at one time when a different patency exists. The faster is the expiratory thrust of a nose blow, the more efficiently it pushes out secretions in the nasal cavity....

A forced expiration such as cough or sneeze eliminates secretions not only from the upper airways but from the lower airways as well by its speed and dynamic intrathoracic compression. Nose blow may also have the similar function. This is accomplished when the expiration covers the middle and the lower two-thirds of the vital capacity. A big and long nose blow is therefore  recommended to prevent upper and lower respiratory tract diseases.


This article is republished with permission from the January-February 2017 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

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