Sneezing Reboots Airway’s Defense, Similar To “Blue Screen Of Death”

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

Sneezing can happen at any time — a whiff of dust might cause someone to sneeze; a cold and mucus-filled nose might cause another to sneeze. Researchers, curious about the cause and effect of sneezing, recently decided to peer further into the expulsive issue.

With the use of Microsoft Windows´ blue screen, scientists have discovered that sneezing is the body´s way of rebooting; as a result, patients who have disorders of the nose like sinusitis cannot reboot and sneeze more often than others.

Based on the findings, scientists understand why people sneeze, the purpose of sneezing, and what effects are related to those who have difficulty sneezing. The researchers describe sneezing as a “reboot” that the body undergoes when it is overwhelmed. Sneezing helps the body reset the environment of nasal passages and biochemical signals in the body help regulate the microscopic hairs that are found in the nasal cavities.

“Very little is known about the effects of sneezing on the cells within the nose and sinuses,” Dr. 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, stated in a blog post on the school´s website. “As a matter of fact, almost nothing is known about sneezing. As an ear, nose, and throat physician who deals with problems of the nose, frequent sneezing is a very common complaint I encounter from my patients.”

The findings are featured online in the FASEB Journal, which is published by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

“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,” explained Cohen in a prepared statement. “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 team of investigators utilized cells from the noses of mice that had been grown in incubators and looked at how the cells could clear mucus. Studying the cells´ biochemical processes, they tested how the cells would react to a simulated sneeze. The researchers then mimicked some of the experiments with human sinus and nasal tissue. At the end of the project, the scientists discovered that cells from sinusitis patients do not respond the same way to sneeze as cells from patients who do not have sinusitis. They theorize that patients who have sinusitis sneeze more often because their sneezes cannot reset the nasal environment or are less effective in committing this action.

“What we found was that the pressure force of the sneeze activates the process by which our cells clear mucus (mucociliary clearance) — like rebooting or hitting ℠control/alt/delete´ on a computer,” commented Cohen in the University of Pennsylvania blog post. “Since nothing was known about the cells´ response to a sneeze, this was a novel finding.”

In the future, the researchers hope to look at medications or treatments that can be developed to assist patients who have sinusitis.

“I’m confident that modern biochemical studies of ciliary beating frequency will help us find new treatments for chronic sinusitis,” explained Dr. Gerald Weissmann, Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal, in the statement. “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.”

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