Facing up to the Triangle of Death

How your grooming practices pose problems with deadly consequences

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Humans just can't seem to keep their hands off their faces. They are committed to plucking and popping any imperfections that they can see in the mirror. As tempting as this is, over-enthusiastic grooming can be dangerous if performed in the area of the face called the "triangle of death." This triangle extends from the corners of the mouth to the bridge of the nose.

The reason for this dramatic moniker is that blood vessels in the triangle drain to the back of the head where it meets up with the veins at the base of the brain. From there it is a quick shot to the cavernous sinus, which receives blood from this nearby web of veins. Infections here can cause vision loss, paralysis, headaches and sometimes death. How the bacteria get there can have something to do with how we primp our faces.

Nosing Around

The nose is the body's first line of defense against airborne invaders, so it should come as no surprise that there are colonies of germs living inside the nasal cavity. For the most part, bacteria and debris don't get very far into the body because there is a very efficient protective mechanism inside the nose. Tiny hairs called cilia move ever so slightly to snare and trap what they can in mucous-coated hairs, keeping anything from reaching the breathing passages and gaining access to the bloodstream.

It is the proximity of the nose, mouth and lips to the veins on our face and behind our eyes that can provide bacteria instant access to the brain. Disturbing the integrity of the skin anywhere in the triangle, gives bacteria the freedom to wander.

Picket Lines

If you have a habit of picking more winners from your nose then the stock market, you may want to heed to this advice. Any time you tweeze out a nose or lip hair, pierce the face, or pop a pimple, bacteria collects in the wound and can invade the triangle of death's blood supply. Similarly, facial wounds, surgical incisions and gums can become an avenue of infection. The best mode of prevention is to be a non-picker.

Here is how you can keep out of the triangle of death:

  • Clear nasal passages with a nasal rinse and a neti pot as part of your daily morning hygiene routine
  • Gently clear crust from the nose carefully using a clean tissue and not your nail or other device
  • Avoid popping or picking at facial pimples, blackheads, cuts and scabs
  • Treat any facial infection, sore or cut immediately
  • Line your nose with a emollient jelly to make it less crusty
  • Use rotary nose-hair trimmers that gently cut the hairs rather than pulling them out at the root
  • Rethink the facial piercing