a Tip On Tips

In this season of coughs and colds, it's good to know the difference between noses and ears. The distinction may seem obvious to you. But when it comes to cleaning them out, many parents I know are confused.

The confusion has to do with the kind of bulb suction device you use. The standard bulb suction device is a single piece of flexible plastic, with a bulb at one end and a long, tapered snout at the other. The idea is to squeeze the bulb, insert the rubber snout into your child's snout, and release the bulb. The mucus in the nose then rushes up into the bulb, and your child gives you a grateful gurgle.

Only it usually doesn't happen that way. With this kind of bulb suction - which is actually designed for ears, not noses - the tapered end is so thin that it fits into the nostril with quite a bit of room to spare. When you release the bulb, air rushes in between the nostril and the rubber snout, and most of the mucus stays put. If you try to shove the soft rubber in deep enough that it seals up against the nostril, the rubber tip bumps up against the lining of the nose, causing irritation. And an irritated nose makes more mucus.

The right tool for sucking out noses is a nasal aspirator. This piece of equipment has a soft rubber bulb and a snout, but at the end of the snout there is a firm plastic button, which is wide enough so that it can seal up against the edge of the nostril. Now, when you release the bulb, the suction has to pull in air from all the way at the back of the nose, where the nose connects to the throat. As a result, the cleaning action is much better, and there is no risk of irritating the nose.

The difference between an ear aspirator (narrow snout), and a nasal aspirator (wide-end snout) is small. But the difference it makes to your child's comfort is large.