Snotty noses: illness or a necessary part of childhood?

Snotty noses: illness or a necessary part of childhood?

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.

Rebecca Avern

I have been practising acupuncture for 15 years. As well as practising in Oxford, I am both a senior lecturer and clinical supervisor at the College of Integrated Chinese Medicine (www.cicm.org.uk) which is the biggest acupuncture training centre in Europe. I have treated both adults and children and whilst the benefits of acupuncture for adults are well-known and well-documented, fewer people are aware of how it can benefit children. I decided that I wanted more children to experience the benefits of acupuncture, and so decided to set up The Panda Clinic. I have to admit to having another motivation - I love being around children and derive great satisfaction when I see children recover from ill health. I am mother to 2 primary school age children. As well as being an experienced acupuncturist, as a parent I have a good understanding of the stress and anxiety that an ill child can induce. I will always do my best to communicate with the parent(s) of a child I am treating as thoroughly and clearly as I can.