Snotty noses: illness or a necessary part of childhood?

 

girl wearing white clothes walking on pavement road

I have seen several babies and toddlers in the clinic this week who have all been in the middle of what can only be described as ‘outpourings of snot’!  They are not ‘ill’, as such, and their parents report that they are happy and energetic.  However, they have an almost permanent stream of mucus running from their nose.

It is easy to jump to the assumption that this is inherently ‘a bad thing’, and a sign of ill health in some way, and certainly something that we should try to put an end to. From a Chinese medicine perspective, however, there is another way of understanding this process.  The great physician Sun Simiao talked about the fact that babies and toddlers must go through phases of intense growth and development, which both enable them to become more ‘grounded’ in the world and also to throw off toxins that they have been born with.  Periods of ‘snotty-ness’, when the child is otherwise well, are often a sign of one of these intense phases of development.

So, rather than reaching for the Calpol and worrying that something is wrong, the best way to help a child through such a phase is to nurture them as best we can, provide them with lots of opportunity for rest and avoid over-stimulating them.  Parents often notice that, once this phase is over, their child has made some important developmental leaps.  For example, an eight month old baby may start sleeping through the night for the first time, or a three year old may decide they do not want to wear nappies anymore and take to toilet-training easily.  An older child may start speaking or engaging with others more confidently.

Growth and development are not linear, constant processes.  They happen in fits and starts, with regressions and big leaps forwards along the way.   The physical body may become temporarily out of kilter for a time.  It’s important to acknowledge and encourage acceptance of this process, rather than to always jump in and try to ‘fix’ it.  As practitioners, we can encourage parents to tune in to their intuition, so that they can recognise the difference between illness and development.

 

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