Why Do We Sneeze?

Sure, they blast out germs and other unwanted intruders, but sneezes have another, just discovered purpose, a new study says.

When we breathe in foreign particles, sensors in our noses and sinuses detect the objects. The sensors signal the cilia—tiny, hairlike paddles that line our nostrils and sinuses—to move to expel the irritants.

This process is "always idling at first gear," with the cilia ready to spring into action when needed, said study co-author Noam Cohen, an otolaryngologist—ear, nose, and throat specialist—at the University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia VA Medical Center.

The study found that the burst of air produced by a sneeze not only clears nasal passages but also triggers the cilia sensors to kick the paddles into high gear for an extended period—about a couple minutes—Cohen said.

In that sense, a sneeze works by "resetting the system—like Control-Alt-Delete" on

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