As hay fever and allergies are hit by summer conditions, a timely new study has explained why we sneeze, what sneezing should accomplish, and what happens when sneezing does not work properly.
New research conducted by scientists at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia has suggested that sneezing is the body’s natural reboot. Analysis of people with disorders of the nose such as sinusitis, they found that these people can’t reboot, which is why they sneeze more often than others.
They compare these conditions to Microsoft Windows’ infamous blue screen of death, with our noses needing a reboot when overwhelmed. This biological reboot is triggered by the pressure force of a sneeze, which resets the environment within nasal passages so bad particles breathed in through the nose can be trapped. Biochemical signals that regulate the beating of cilia (microscopic hairs) on the cells that line our nasal cavities allows this operation to take place.
Noam A. Cohen, a researcher involved in the work from the Department of Otorhinolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia 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.”
The researchers have speculated that sinusitis patients sneeze more often because their sneezes fail to reset the nasal environment properly, or are less effective in doing so. New medications or treatments could help these symptoms working on the back of this new research.
Gerald Weissmann, M.D., editor-in-chief of The FASEB Journal said: “I’m confident that modern biochemical studies of ciliary beating frequency will help us find new treatments for chronic sinusitis.
“I’m far less confident in our abilities to resolve messy computer crashes. We now know why we sneeze. Computer crashes are likely to be a mystery forever.”