Thursday, August 2, 2012

A sneeze may function as a 'reboot' for the nose

Sneezing is one of those things we consider normal, despite the fact that we do not quite know what our body uses it for. The same goes for yawning, although there are some theories that involve brain temperature. Now, scientists from the University of Pennsylvania claim to have found why our bodies have developed the sneeze reflex: it appears that sneezing helps to 'reboot' the nose. Basically, it is thought to reset the nasal environment.

In order to uncover the biological function of a sneeze, the scientists set up a test system in which they cultured cells from the nose and assessed the way they cleared mucus by looking at their biochemical response. By assessing the behaviour of those cells, the scientists hoped to uncover the way they respond to a simulated sneeze, which was induced with a puff of air. Both healthy cells and those from patients, suffering from a disease that renders them unable to clear mucus from the nose, were cultured in the lab, in order to assess any functional differences in response to a sneeze.

The test setup revealed that people with reduced mucus clearance, something called sinusitis, also have a reduced sneeze response, biochemically speaking. Because the experiments were then replicated with nasal tissue, instead of cells, the scientists hypothesize that a sneeze has an effect on the nasal environment to aid with clearance. A blockage can, for example, be caused by mucus, which would explain the problems that people with sinusitis have when a sneeze does not have any effect on the nasal cells.

Because people with sinusitis sneeze more frequently, it is valid to hypothesize that they have trouble clearing the nasal environment. Despite their attempts, mucus builds up in the nasal passageways, which would normally be cleared with a sneeze. Therefore, it seems that the scientists have found an actual use for this biological phenomenon, but it is still necessary to validate these results in live patients.

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