Sneezing is a common occurrence for everyone, though some sneeze more than others. Sneezing is a natural response for the body, just the same as coughing, itching, and yawning. So why do we sneeze?
So firstly we need to find out what a sneeze is. Basically it is a violent expulsion of the lungs where air is chucked out through the mouth and the nose. We have no control over this because it is a reflex action, which means that our body has total control over the action and we have none. The reason why the expulsion happens in the first place is because the nasal passages detect an irritant and respond by trying to get rid of the source. An irritant in these cases are often called a foreign body.
Our noses do valuable work for our bodies because they try to protect us from potentially dangerous bacteria and chemicals. When we breathe in air, our nose purifies this air and rids the bacteria from it. Sneezing is our body’s way of trying to protect us by getting rid of the potentially harmful substances or bacteria from nasal passages.
There are four reasons why something may be deemed a foreign body by our nasal passage – which in turn causes us to sneeze. I am going to go through each of them in a brief way.
A Cold , flu or viral infection
When we have cold, flu or a viral infection, the usually clear nasal passage is full of snot (nasal mucus or dried nasal mucus). Our bodies sneeze to clear the nasal passages from the bacteria and snot, as they are irritants.
Allergic Rhinitis, otherwise known as hay fever
Allergic rhinitis is more commonly known as hay fever and is when a sufferer is allergic to any airborne substances such as grass pollen, tree pollen, dust mites, pets etc.
These substances get into the upper respiratory system that includes the nose, sinuses, throat and also the eyes. It is rumoured that around 15% of any given population suffer from hay fever at some point in their lives.
Because hay fever affects the upper respiratory tract, one of the problematic symptoms is frequent sneezing, along with a bunged up or runny nose. In hay fever, the reason why a person sneezes is the same as a cold, where it is made to clear the nasal passages.
Though it may sound similar to allergic rhinitis in actual fact it is not. Vasomotor rhinitis is not caused by an allergy or infection and the exact causes vary from person to person, but it is where something obviously irritates the nasal lining. The results are usually a constant runny nose and sneezing. Some things that irritate include:
- A dry atmosphere
- Air pollution
- Strong emotions
Spicy foods or even alcohol
NARES (No allergic rhinitis with eosinophils syndrome)
This is similar to allergic rhinitis but there can be many causes including where the nasal passages widen and dry out, or during pregnancy.
There are other reasons why one may sneeze including sneezing after eating and photic sneezing—which is sneezing after looking at bright lights including the sun.
I hope you have learnt the answer to the question, why do we sneeze and also essentially what a sneeze is.