Whether you say “gesundheit” or “bless you”, the intent is the same: to wish good (health) to the person who sneezes. Sneezing is a protective reflex that babies are born with, and luckily, it doesn’t disappear with growth or aging. We don’t need to learn how to sneeze and we can never forget how to do it!
Sneezing may feel annoying, but in reality, it helps the body get rid of things that are irritating or harmful. By sneezing, newborns (as well as older babies, children, and adults) can expel germs and particles from the nose and help protect themselves from getting sick.
Sneezing is how the body clears the nose. When pollen, smoke, dust or even fragrances and odors enter the nostrils, each individual’s nose may react differently. If it’s irritating or tickling in some way, the body tries to ease that feeling and does so with an achoo! In this way, a sneeze is one of the body’s first defenses against invading bacteria and/or viruses. Other foreign particles that can trigger sneezing include mold, mildew, dander and smog.
Sneezes also perform another vital role in the body. In 2012, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania discovered that sneezing is the nose’s natural way to “reset.” They found that cilia, the cells that line the tissue inside the nose, are rebooted with a sneeze. In other words, a sneeze resets the entire nasal environment.1
When we are allergic to something, sneezing is one of the most common reactions as the body tries to clear its airway of the offending allergen. Researchers aren’t sure why some people sneeze multiple times. It may be a sign that your sneezes aren’t quite as strong as a person who only sneezes once. It could also be a sign that you have ongoing or chronic nasal stimulation or inflammation, possibly as a result of allergies.
The most important indoor pollutant is tobacco smoke. It is strongly associated with allergic reactions, asthma and other respiratory ailments.2 The most common sources of outdoor pollution include ozone, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide.3 These pollutants have been shown to be especially hazardous to adults and children with asthma.
• Ozone is a big contributor to smog. It’s produced when sunlight reacts with the fumes produced by cars and industrial plants. Although ozone helps protect from UV rays, when it’s present at high amounts on the ground level, it acts as an irritant to the lungs, aggravates asthma and makes breathing difficult.
• Sulfur Dioxide is a water-soluble gas commonly emitted into the air by coal-fired power plants, refineries, smelters, paper and pulp mills, and food processing plants. Sulfur dioxide has such a pungent odor that for some people, just the smell can cause sneezing. Sulfur dioxide is a precursor for sulfuric acid, an air pollutant that plays a major role in causing respiratory distress.
• Nitrogen Dioxide is produced largely by burning fuel. In urban areas, it’s produced when there is a lot of traffic congestion or diesel fumes. Indoors, it’s produced by unventilated heaters and gas stoves.
The air that we breathe not only can cause sneezing, but it can also produce runny noses, burning eyes and respiratory distress. An interesting fact is that allergies are more prevalent in highly developed countries in North America and Europe than in less developed nations.4 This suggests that something about contemporary lifestyles may be causing more allergies.
Some items we tend to overlook that can cause allergies include artificial food coloring (especially red dye), latex (commonly found in medical gloves, adhesive bandages and other medical devices), nickel (an element often mixed into gold-toned jewelry), cosmetics (makeup is often full of chemicals, perfumes, and dust mites (that often live in pillows, sheets, mattresses, carpets or even stuffed animals). And of course, the more fumes we breathe in from car exhaust, vehicles that run on diesel, and industrial air pollution, the more likely we are to suffer from breathing difficulties.
What is the bottom line? Indoor air quality is just as important as outdoor air quality, with tobacco smoke being the worst and most offensive air pollutant that clearly promotes both allergy and asthma. Diesel fumes likely promote allergy, whereas other outdoor air pollutants act more as irritants that can aggravate allergies and asthma. Although we are not in control of outdoor air, we can take steps to make sure our indoor air quality is healthy. Keeping dust to a minimum and washing bedding often, using fragrance-free detergents and cleansers, brushing pets often and disposing of fur—these are all part of an Active Wellness lifestyle—and always use a good air filtration system indoors.
Since May is designated as National Asthma & Allergy Awareness month, Nikken is participating by offering you affordable access to top quality HEPA 13 air filtration with 20% off each order of the KenkoAir Purifier®. In addition, each order of the KenkoAir Purifier comes with items that provide an extra line of defense to support an Active Wellness lifestyle—Kenzen® Hand Sanitizer, Kenzen® Surface Cleaner and the Surface Cleaner refill. This offer lasts through the end of May, so take advantage of it while you can!