The Triangle of Death

… is a dramatic, excellent name for the region of your face where pimple-popping can lead to a deadly brain infection.

It bugs me that I didn’t know anything about this death triangle back in middle school.  You can bet that I was just a stroke of good luck away from a brain infection, since I flat-out ignored anything authorities said about how popping pimples was “dangerous”.  Dangerous was such a nebulous term – what exactly would happen?  They said “it might get infected”, which, well, who cares if a tiny spot in your face has an infection if the alternative is an equally gross looking pimple?  Whoop-de-doo, right?

So although it’s all well and good to know that experts think something is bad, knowing why things are bad can be pretty essential for people to actually change their habits.  And knowing why means actually being able to understand it – a real explanation of how it works, and not just a hand-wavey “studies have shown” or “researchers have discovered”.

Remember the “antiperspirants cause breast cancer” thing?  It was a chain letter that said, essentially: “Antiperspirants have heavy metals (check your deodorant label if you don’t believe me).  They stop you from sweating because these heavy metals clog your sweat glands – but that means toxins build-up, can’t get out, and migrate to the lymph nodes where they induce cellular changes that lead to breast cancer.”

I mean, tell me that doesn’t make intuitive sense at first.  It does, right?  And many people still believe it, because it’s an explanation that imparts some new knowledge while following a logical bent.*

But it’s false.  (Although, if you consider the shaving-nick route of transmission, can be upgraded to unproven but doubtful.)

What we need are short, simple explanations that sound just as good as the antiperspirant-causes-breast-cancer explanation – but with the benefit of having some empirical fact to back them up.  Something like: “Blood can flow both ways in the veins near your nose – out of your face AND back into your brain.  If you send bacteria from a zit back to your brain, the blood just lies in a shallow pool, so bacteria have lots of time to multiply and slowly kill you make your brain very sick.” Yes, it’s simplified (no talk of valves or cavernous sinuses)- but I’m willing to bet if I had heard it as a kid, I would’ve remembered it.

*  Because of this chain letter, my undergrad anatomy TA – who stood next to me at our tank for 12 hours a week – refused to wear deodorant.
…I may still be a little irritated with that chain letter.

7 thoughts on “The Triangle of Death

  1. there are many popped pimples. and very rare septic cavernous sinus thrombosis. but i do suggest treating orbital celllulitis.

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