Scientists Discover A New Reason Why We Sneeze

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Photo: Flickr / Jeff_Werner

When we sneeze we aren’t just clearing dirt and dust from our sinuses, new research in the FASEB Journal suggests. Researchers have discovered another purpose to sneezing: getting your nose cells working.We all know that sneezing blasts out particles that do not belong in our body, like dust, pollen, and potentially harmful bacteria and viruses.

Our noses are lined with tiny “hairs” called cilia that move to expel these irritants. Noam Cohen an ear, throat, and nose specialist from the University of Pennsylvania describes cilia to National Geographic as a “constantly moving shag carpet”.

For cilia to do their job, we first need mucus to trap the foreign particles. Once trapped, our cilia moves these mucus particles into our bodies where we either spit it out, or swallow it. Anything harmful swallowed goes into the stomach and gets killed by our stomach acid.

In the new study, the researchers grew nostril cells until they resembled the lining in our sinuses. Scientists blew air into the lining, mimicking a sneeze. They found that although cilia is constantly moving, sometimes they need this kickstart of a sneeze to move faster. A sneeze clears the nose of built up mucus and triggers the cilia to move faster. This increased movement can last for a couple of minutes.

This finding can be beneficial to people with sinusitis and disorders that make clearing out mucus difficult.

The researchers think that in people with sinusitis, the cilia might not be responding to this air movement as well as normal. This lack of response can be due to inflammation or toxins. The research can potentially lead to a better treatment to activate your cilia, get the mucus moving, relieve congestion, and painful swelling of the sinuses that comes with sinusitis.

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