Sunday, February 19, 2006

Fun with the nasolacrimal duct

Mehmet Yilmaz snorts milk up his nose and squirts it out of his eye in a bid to set a new world record in Istanbul, Turkey, Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2004. Yilmaz squirted the milk 2 m 79.5 cm, surpassing the existing world record of 2 m 61 cm. (AP/Osman Orsal)

Many people have anatomical tricks that can break the ice at cocktail parties - making a cloverleaf tongue, crossing one eye at a time, pointing your uvula -- but this one pretty much takes the cake.

Theoretically it seems like everyone should be capable of squirting milk from the eyes. After all, we all have nasolacrimal ducts, canals that allow tears to drain from the eyes to the nasal cavity. That's why people get "runny noses" when they cry. That's also why we should avoid touching our eyes: viruses on fingers can be transported from the eye via the nasolacrimal duct to the nose and throat (check out the very cool Common Cold website for more information). There are two nasolacrimal ducts - one for each eye - and each duct has two tiny entrances called lacrimal puncta. Using a mirror, look very closely at the inner corner of your eye and you'll see that each eyelid (upper and lower) has a lacrimal punctum. Normally fluid goes from the lacrimal puncta to the nose; eye-squirters somehow manage to reverse the flow.

Even though we all have the requisite eye-nose connection, eye-squirting must not be common. I'd never heard of it until I read about this guy in 2004. An article on the BBC website (bless them for keeping their news archives free) claims that "only a few people around the world have the necessary physical anomaly." Maybe that means that only a few people have a lacrimal punctum (eyelid hole) that is big enough. Or maybe it just hasn't occurred to most people to give it try.

Not that I'd recommend it. The nasolacrimal ducts aren't the only structures that drain into the nose. The sinuses do, too. These spaces in the skull (called paranasal sinuses, to be precise) normally contain nothing more than air and a thin film of mucus, but they can become overwhelmed by things like infection, inflammation, and excess mucous production. That's what happens in sinusitis . I imagine that milk, even if it's been pasteurized, isn't good for the sinuses.

Strange as it may sound, milk in the nasal cavity could also end up in the ears. Just behind the nasal cavity is the nasopharynx, the top end of the throat. The nasopharynx has two major claims to fame: it contains (1) a collection of infection-fighting tissue called the pharyngeal tonsil (also called adenoids); and nearby, (2) the openings of the eustachian tubes. The eustachian tubes lead directly to the middle ear. This connection between the ear and the throat is a good thing if you're trying to adjust the air pressure in your middle ear (e.g., when you fly or dive). But it's potentially a bad thing for eye-squirters. Milk in the middle ear cavity sounds like a recipe for otitis media.

Finally, if the photo above didn't freak you out enough, check out the video!


At 2/19/2006 9:43 PM, Blogger Julia said...

The picture is pretty disturbing, but the video gives me the heebie jeebies! Still, I enjoyed reading what you wrote. Your writing style is so totally "readable". I love it!

At 3/12/2006 12:05 PM, Blogger Stacey said...

There was a guy on Ripley's Believe It or Not who did the same thing but with corn kernals. I would think that would be extremely painful.
When it comes to ice breakers I think I will stick to wiggling my ears

At 6/01/2006 4:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I guess I am one of those people with the correct physical anomaly. I squirt mucous out of my left eye every time I blow my nose. If I hold my nostrils closed I can push forceful air out my eye. I can also suck air in my ears if I have a menthol drop. I am not freaky and I have never mentioned this to anyone because I thought everyone could do this!


At 1/04/2007 5:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very rarely, when blowing my nose a jet of air comes out of these ducts (normally 1).

In response to Grace 6/01/2006. You describe sucking air into your ears. I think (as I can do it to) is that your sucking air into ur lungs, with ur mouth/nose closed thus ur actually drawing air out of your ears via the eustachian tubes.

For those of us who know how to 'open' the eustachian tubes (ie adjusting pressure inner-ear pressure can be performed deliberately without use of a boiled sweet or swallowing) we can reduce the pressure in the middle-ear and make everything sound quite. Kinda fun as a kid, but I reckon its probably a great way to get a nasty inner-ear infection if done too much.

Somerset, UK

At 4/24/2007 1:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll tell you what's nasty. I shoot boogers out my right eye when I blow my nose. Milk seems pretty mild to me.

At 6/21/2007 10:05 AM, Blogger HealthEdit said...

Brad, on another issue, I'm an acquisitions editor at a major health care publisher and found your anatomy blog through a Google search. I'd like to talk with you about possibly reviewing an anatomy manuscript I'll be receiving sometime next year. My email is

Andy McPhee

At 7/02/2007 9:25 PM, Blogger Rebekah said...

We just discovered tonight that my 4 year old boy can do this. I found your blog by researching it. I posted his great talent on my site.

At 1/13/2008 10:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The valves of Henle and Rosenmuller normally prevent significant retrograde (backwards) reflux through the Nasolacrimal Duct System. Only people with incompetent (loose) ducts regularly reflux mucous, air, milk or corn kernels through their NLD. A more common problem in children is an imperforate valve of Henle leading to tearing and possible infection. Eye surgeons can open the duct up with a simple probing procedure using a Sterling Silver probe and or placement of a silicone tube.
Dr. A

At 2/28/2008 9:05 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I had a friend whose ice breaker was
Blowing cigarrete smoke out of her ear.
Same kind of thing, less mess.
But really,

At 7/25/2008 3:49 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I experimented earlier this evening with this. A regular part of my act involves injecting alcohol into my sinuses by "blockheading" a large meat marinade injector (btw I have had no sinus infections or inner ear problems from this act).

I attempted injecting milk and applying light pressure to my sinuses . While I could feel pressure in my eye in the tear duct area, alas no milk emerged. Apparently my ducts are not loose enough :-(

-Aaron Zilch

At 8/27/2008 8:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been searching for help with a problem I've been having for about two years and this site comes up in my google searches a lot. I was wondering if anyone could help me, it's a last ditch effort.....I have pressure above and around my left eye, and down the left side of my nose. It feels like there is a blockage in the tube coming from my eye, out my nose, the nasolacrimal duct. I hit my nose on the side of my pool two years ago and there is a little dent right where the bone stops, and it feels like that is where the blockage is. I was told my eyes are fine, my sinus's are fine (only after having two surgeries for deviated septum thinking maybe that was causing the problem) I have also had my tear duct checked and it is fine. I don't have a problem with tearing, but when I eat hot foods or when I cry the pressure gets worse and throbs on that side. And it doesn't drain unless I rub it and blow my nose. Also I can't sleep on my left side because it throbs. The only time I get relief is lying on the other side. Also I get temporary relief if I massage that area and then blow my nose really hard. Fluid comes out and it feels better for a few minutes but then the pressure comes back. When I rub around my eye I can feel a tickling sensation in my nose.
No one seems to know what is wrong but all of my research online has pointed me in the direction of a blockage in my nasolacrimal duct. But the tear duct doctor said no, because I dont have overflowing tears.... But when I rub my eye I feel and hear a squishy sound like there is fluid building up in the lacrimal sac. I am so frustrated and at all real loss of what to do next. I know there is something wrong, and even now my eye has started to look funny, swollen above it and dented and bruised looking near the corner. Does anyone have any idea where I can turn? Any doctor? I'm willing to travel anywhere at this point.(I live near Philadelphia PA)
Please help!!
(my email is

At 3/31/2011 12:37 PM, Blogger Brad said...

FYI, if your name is "buy viagra", your comment will be deleted eventually. I hate spam.

At 10/02/2012 9:04 AM, Anonymous rohit said...

The picture is pretty good, and i really appreciated your great topics inner ear infection

At 3/29/2013 9:47 PM, Anonymous acupuncture bell's palsy said...

woooooowwwww this is amazing maynnn !!! video is just mind blowing !!

At 3/29/2013 9:49 PM, Anonymous peter kenneth said...

Incredible !! hats off to this man !! He is just amazing !!

At 8/13/2015 4:26 PM, Blogger Kristen.M1030 said...

Of course milk isn't good for the sinuses whether it's pasteurized or not. Besides, pasteurized doesn't mean there's nothing wrong with it. The cow still secretes puss and sometimes even infection out of her teats, and all pasteurization does is sterilize the puss, but you're still drinking puss and infection either way (or sucking it up your nose and squirting it out of your eye in this particular case). It's kind of like how you could put hand sanitizer on a piece of dog poop, but that doesn't make it ok to eat, it's still shit regardless, now it's just shit that's been soaked in hand sanitizer, lol. Pasteurization doesn't remove the bad stuff, it just sterilizes it.

At 9/17/2015 8:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks for the explanation! Now I can understand why my lower lacrimal punctum releases fluid whenever I sneeze. This is painful and I try to close my eyes tightly to avoid pain and tear-sprinkled glasses.

At 1/05/2016 9:25 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Yo same


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