Breaking the Rules

By Howard J. Bennett

Humans are curious creatures, and when cautioned not to do something, they often do it anyway just to see what happens. Some warnings should always be followed. If you see a sign that says, “Danger,” “Do Not Enter,” “Flammable,” “Poison” or anything else that might be harmful, you should absolutely do what it says. However, some warnings are based on medical wisdom that’s been passed down from generation to generation. And what seemed like good advice 50 years ago may not have withstood the test of time.

Warnings You Should Follow

Blowing your nose too hard may cause a sinus infection. Most people think this is an old wives’ tale, but doctors researched the question a few years ago. They squirted liquid into the noses of volunteers and asked them to blow into a tissue with soft, medium or hard pressure. Then they x-rayed the subjects and discovered that the ones who blew hard forced the liquid into their sinuses. Doctors don’t know for sure whether blowing your nose too hard will cause a sinus infection, but forcing mucus into your sinuses would make it easier for bacteria to grow and cause an infection.

The more you scratch it, the more it will itch. If you scratch a bug bite or an itchy rash too much, it can irritate the nerve endings in your skin and cause the itch to get worse. The way to deal with a nasty itch is to cool the area with ice or a bag of frozen peas, take an oral anti-itch medicine or apply an anti-itch cream like hydrocortisone.

The more you pick it, the longer it will take to heal. A scab is nature’s bandage. If you pick at a scab, it can open the wound and increase the time it takes to heal. If you can’t leave a scab alone, cover it with a bandage, a sock or some other material to discourage you from picking at it.

Warnings You Can Ignore

Going outside on a cold day with wet hair causes pneumonia. This will give you a chilly head, but not a cold or pneumonia.

Wait an hour after eating to go swimming or you may get a cramp and drown. It’s true that eating increases blood flow to your intestinal tract, but you have enough blood in your body to simultaneously power your muscles and digest your food. The main reason to avoid swimming after eating is because you might get nauseous, especially if you swallow pool water.

If you cross your eyes, they will stay that way. Making faces with your eyes can give you a headache, but it won’t cause “crossed eyes.”

If you swallow gum, it will stay in your intestines you for seven years. Gum is made up of chemicals that can’t be digested. However, instead of remaining inside your body, swallowed gum will move through your intestinal tract and come out the other end (undigested) in a few days. The main reason not to swallow gum is because you could choke on it.


Your parents may not agree with everything I had to say, so discuss any possible rule bending in advance. That way, none of us will get into trouble!


© 2012 Howard J. Bennett. All Rights Reserved.
(First published in the Washington Post 5/1/11.)

For more KidsPost articles and lots of other cool stuff,
please visit Dr. B’s website at