Why do we sneeze?

We’ve all done it, you’ve probably been embarrassed by it, and it’s hard to look good while doing it (and no, we are not talking about the shufflin’ dance): we are talking about sneezing. The big question is; why do we sneeze? You can answer because we have an allergy, or because we are blocked up with a cold, or because dust has irritated the old proboscis but that is all after the fact and ignores the central issue of why is that the nose’s response to all of things is to sneeze? Well, a new report believes it has the answer.

To make this discovery researchers from the University of Pennsylvania used cells from the noses of mice grown in incubators. They measured how these cells cleared mucus and how they responded to a sneeze simulated by a puff of air. They then did the same thing with human nose cells and compared nose cells from people with sinusitis to cells from people without sinusitis.

By observing what happens to nose cells in response to a “sneeze” the researchers concluded that what happens is when the normal clearing mechanisms of nose cells become overwhelmed a sneeze causes a biological “reboot” that resets the nasal environment so that the signals that regulate the beating of the cilia (tiny hairs) in the nose return to normal. When the cilia operate normally substances can be cleared from the nose properly again.

Interestingly, while the sneeze performed this function well in “normal” nose cells, for cells from people with sinusitis the “reboot” did not work. The researchers believe that sinusitis sufferers might sneeze more frequently because their sneezes fail to properly reset the nose environment.

Alas then, it seems your nose is not like your computer. Whereas switching it off and on again seems to solve most computing problems (with due respect to IT departments everywhere) for sinusitis sufferers it seems the “restart” button for their nose does not function properly. If we can understand why it does not work then a whole new range of treatments for hayfever and the like could be born. In the meantime, you sinus sufferers will just have to wait for the next generation “inose 5” to arrive.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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