MUNSolved Mysteries

(Gazette, Jan. 23, 1997)

Have a burning question pertaining to science, engineering, medicine, the arts, music, humanities, social sciences, physical education, or any other field? Let us know; we'll do our best to find the answers for you, drawing upon the expertise of members of the university community.

Paul Barrette, a post-doctoral fellow with C-CORE, sent us an e-mail message asking: "Why do people have to blow their noses after crying or sneezing?"

Well, now; the answer might just blow you away! According to Dr. Jim Hutchinson, an infectious disease specialist in the Faculty of Medicine, this question has two different answers.

First, tears are made in the lacrimal glands on the lateral part of your face above your eyebrows, and they normally drain across your eyes, down into your tear ducts and into your nose on an ongoing basis. When you cry, extra tears drain into your nose, causing you to blow your nose in order to expel them. (Otherwise it'd be pretty hard to breathe.)

"The reason you need to blow your nose after sneezing is simply that some of the secretion being sneezed out gets left behind, and it's just a way of finishing the job," Dr. Hutchinson explained. "Incidentally," he added, "your respiratory lining cells get stirred up in reaction to a stimulus, be it pepper or a virus. A sneeze is an extreme reflex action -- the body's most aggressive action -- reaching speeds of up to 100 miles per hour in an effort to expel what is bothersome. What is expelled are normal secretions in the nose."

Anyone have a tissue? Send your question to MUNsolved Mysteries, Gazette, Arts and Administration Building, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, Nfld., A1C 5S7; e-mail, or fax 709-737-8699. Please include your name and telephone number.