New research helps explains why we sneeze, what sneezing should accomplish, and what happens when sneezing does not work properly.
The research, published online in July 2012 in The FASEB Journal, suggests that sneezing is the body’s natural reboot – researchers likened it to Microsoft Windows’ infamous blue screen of death – and that patients with disorders of the nose such as sinusitis can’t reboot, explaining why they sneeze more often than others.
Much like a temperamental computer, the researchers say, our noses require a “reboot” when overwhelmed, and this biological reboot is triggered by the pressure force of a sneeze. When a sneeze works properly, it resets the environment within nasal passages so “bad” particles breathed in through the nose can be trapped. The sneeze is accomplished by biochemical signals that regulate the beating of cilia (microscopic hairs) on the cells that line our nasal cavities.
Noam A. Cohen, M.D., Ph.D. is a researcher involved in the work from the Department of Otorhinolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He said:
While sinusitis rarely leads to death, it has a tremendous impact on quality of life, with the majority of symptoms coming from poor clearance of mucus. By understanding the process by which patients with sinusitis do not clear mucus from their nose and sinuses, we can try to develop new strategies to compensate for their poor mucus clearance and improve their quality of life.
To make this discovery, Cohen and colleagues used cells from the noses of mice which were grown in incubators and measured how these cells cleared mucus. They examined how the cells responded to a simulated sneeze (puff of air) by analyzing the cells’ biochemical responses. Some of the experiments were replicated in human sinus and nasal tissue removed from patients with and without sinusitis. They found that cells from patients with sinusitis do not respond to sneezes in the same manner as cells obtained from patients who do not have sinusitis. The researchers speculate that sinusitis patients sneeze more frequently because their sneezes fail to reset the nasal environment properly or are less efficient at doing so. Further understanding of why sinusitis patients have this difficulty could aid in the development of more effective medications or treatments.
Bottom line: New research, published online in July 2012 in The FASEB Journal, suggests that sneezing is the body’s natural reboot – researchers likened it to Microsoft Windows’ infamous blue screen of death – and that patients with disorders of the nose such as sinusitis can’t reboot, explaining why they sneeze more often than others.