ASK YOUR SCIENCE TEACHER by Larry Scheckel
This week’s question was asked by: Adrian Gomez, Miller Elementary, Grade 3
School Teacher: Ms. Gonia
Why do some people drink water and then laugh and it comes out of their nose?
Excessive jocularity can cause water, milk, or soda to come out the nose. Food and drink should be going down the esophagus and into the stomach. Air should be going down the trachea, then into the branching bronchial tubes, and ending into the lungs.
But those two tubes, the trachea and the esophagus, are quite close to each other. So the drink can go down the trachea and bronchial tubes, which is the wrong pipe, and then be expelled out the nose. Instead of being swallowed, the fluid goes up the nasal passages and out through the nostrils.
There is a saying that says “the joke was so funny it caused him to have nose cola”.
There is no real danger medically. Perhaps there is some social embarrassment for an adult. Absolutely no embarrassment for a pre-teen or teen boy!
The human body has safety devices that prevent food and drink going down the wrong way. There is a flap of skin in the back of the throat called the epiglottis. The epiglottis covers the trachea when you swallow food. Sometimes if a person is talking or laughing while swallowing food or drink, the epiglottis does not block the larynx completely and food enters the wrong pipe. It can spurt out the nose.
The larynx sits atop the trachea. The larynx contains the vocal cords that are needed to speak and sing. These vocal cords will close up and go into a spasm if food or fluid gets to them.
As a final defense, if food or drink gets into the trachea or windpipe, you have a cough reflex that should expel any intruders.
The above three mechanisms can be dismantled by excessive alcohol. Food and drink can get into the bronchial passages and cause death by asphyxiation.
What about a cow? If a cow laughed really hard, would milk come out her nose? The answer is no. It’s udderly impossible.