September 11, 2012

What is a Sneeze?

Filed under: flu,respiratory — drwatson @ 8:55 am

A sneeze is one of the fastest reflexes the human body has. Everyone sneezes, but not many people know what makes you sneeze or what causes sneezing.

In scientific terms, a sneeze is a “sudden, spasmodic expulsion of air from the lungs, which finds freedom through the nose and mouth.”

Did that clear things up? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Definitions like that are great for doctors, but not-so-great for blogs.

What Causes Sneezing?

A sneeze can be caused by several different factors, most of which are environmental.

The main thing that causes sneezing is a foreign particle trying to enter the body through the nasal cavity. Other common triggers are looking into the sun or another bright light, having a full stomach, or having a viral infection. A sneeze can also be a symptom of nasal congestion or allergies.

Sneezing from the sun or a bright light is known as a Photic Sneeze Reflex. Not everyone does this, but it’s fairly common.

A rarer condition is sneezing due to a full stomach.  This is a disorder called snatiation and is hereditary.

When sneezing is a symptom of allergies or nasal congestion, the cause is most often something in your environment.  Certain particles in the air, called allergens, can aggravate the nasal mucosa. And that causes a sneeze!

Unfortunately there isn’t a cure for sneezing, but the frequency of sneezing can be dramatically decreased simply by controlling the allergens in your house and workplace.

What Makes You Sneeze?

A sneeze happens when particles make it past the nasal cavity hairs and into the nasal mucosa. This triggers the release of the hormone histamine, which then stimulates the nerves in the nasal cavity. These nerves send messages to the brain to initiate a sneeze.

The brain then tells the muscles of the trachea and pharynx to activate. These muscles force the mouth open and expel the air and particles out through the nose and mouth.

All of that can take less than one second.

What is a Sneeze Supposed to Do?

Sneezing is a very important immune response that clears up any harmful bacteria or pathogens from your nasal cavity.

But while it’s great for your immune system, it is not so great for everyone else’s.

Sneezing without proper hygiene can spread harmful pathogens that may infect others. The safest way to sneeze is: cover your mouth and nose with the bend of your arm, then turn away from objects or other people.

Using your hand isn’t enough. Hands are used to open doors and pass things to others. Sneeze into your hand and you’ll be passing bacteria too.

What to Do about Sneezing?

If allergens, rather than pathogens (germs) are making you sneeze, there really is no cure.

However, there are several things you can do to be less miserable (if you don’t like sneezing). The use of over-the-counter allergy medicines is the most common solution, but there are also several preventive measures you can take. Frequent dusting and vacuuming, changing air filters regularly and using a HEPA filter can all reduce allergy symptoms and frequent sneezing.

Sneezing can be annoying, but it’s a natural reaction meant to protect you. If you can determine what makes you sneeze, though, you can most likely do something to something to alleviate the problem.

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