MAILBAG: What causes a sneeze?

Tara of Grand Haven Township asked, "Why do we sneeze?"
Mark Brooky
Oct 19, 2012

 

ANSWER:

Geshundheit, fraulein Tara.

According to kidshealth.org, in an explanation reviewed by Dr. Steven Dowshen, something likely irritated or tickled the inside of your nose to cause an "aaah-aaaah-choo!"

"Sneezing, also called sternutation, is your body's way of removing an irritation from your nose," Dowshen explained. "When the inside of your nose gets a tickle, a message is sent to a special part of your brain called the sneeze center. The sneeze center then sends a message to all the muscles that have to work together to create the amazingly complicated process that we call the sneeze."

While most anything can be the irritant that starts a sneeze, some common things include dust, cold air and pepper.

"When you catch a cold in your nose, a virus has made a temporary home there and is causing lots of swelling and irritation. Some people have allergies, and they sneeze when they are exposed to certain things, such as animal dander (which comes from the skin of many common pets) or pollen (which comes from some plants)," the kidshealth.org article explains.

Another interesting fact is that we close our eyes when we sneeze. The eyelids are part of the muscle groups involved in sneezing.

By the way, sneezing sends that irritation flying out of your nose at quite a clip, up to 100 mph.

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