I have a cold – AGAIN – and this time around I’m experiencing some nice juicy coughs and a plethora of phlegm. Matt has come down with the cough as well and during our weekend of hacking and building snotty-tissue mountains I started to ruminate on the everlasting spit or swallow debate. And of course by this I mean whether or not you spit out the phlegm that you cough up or do you swallow it.
Matt is a spitter: hocking great mounds of mucus onto sidewalks or into wadded tissues – and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m a swallower. I’ve always been a swallower and for years as a child I was berated for this and told that I was making myself even sicker for not spitting that phlegm out. “It’s just going to come right back if you swallow it – you have to spit it out.” my parents would say. And I believed them for several years and I made valiant efforts to spit. But I’m not a good spitter. It’s not a skill that comes naturally to me, and when I attempt to spit it usually ends up as an embarrassing and messy scene involving spittle trails on my chin and an ineffectual wad of saliva and mucus a mere 2 cm. from the toe of my shoe.
So for years I swallowed in shame. Convinced that I was making myself even more ill, until one day when I finally realized that it was all just a scam, a myth, an urban legend. Let’s think about it people: phlegm comes from your lungs, or more accurately from your trachea. When you cough it up it dislodges and lands in your throat or the back of your mouth. When you swallow it goes down your esophagus and into your stomach. Therefore it’s been cleared from your lungs and in effect you’ve accomplished the same goal as spitting. You’ve removed the phlegm from the trachea.
Why is there still this belief that if you swallow the phlegm that you’re somehow being unhealthy? Is it ignorance? A gross out factor? It seems that a lot of people think it’s gross to swallow phlegm. My question is, how is it any worse than spitting it out? The phlegm is inside my body anyway, and sure it’s nasty, but I’d rather swallow it quickly in a fraction of a second and allow my digestive track to dispose of it, than to have it travel over my tongue (and taste buds) and teeth and shoot it out between my lips.
I searched online for medical proof that swallowing phlegm was detrimental to your health and I found none. Everything that I found backed up my belief that it doesn’t matter whether you spit or swallow, just as long as you remove the phlegm from the trachea. And yet I ran across several message boards and question and answer sites where the same old adage, “if you swallow it, it will just come back” was repeated by the ignorant masses.
I’m thinking of starting some sort of public educational campaign. I need to stamp out the ignorance and let people know that it’s okay to swallow, though I’m not sure I’d get good reactions If I made posters that said “There’s no shame in swallowing!” or “You don’t have to spit – you can swallow!” and posted them up on Laundromat and YMCA cork boards.