Finding the Cause of a Runny Nose

(May 2014) A School of Medicine team of researchers led by Thomas Finger, PhD, has figured out what may cause so many people to have runny noses even when they are not having an allergic attack or an infection.

In an article published in April in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Finger and his colleagues reported that they found cells lining the noses of mice that detect potential irritants and pass along an alert to pain-sensing nerve terminals.

The nerves then release a substance that triggers the body’s defenses, called an inflammatory response. The result, among other things, is a runny nose and difficulty breathing.

“Understanding how this works can help researchers try to figure out how to prevent this response,” Finger says. “What if we could deaden the pathway that the body takes to fight off an attack that, in this case, is not really threatening?”

It’s not yet certain that the process is identical in humans, Finger says. But if it is, and if some people are responding to substances or smells that appear to be a threat but actually are benign, then additional research could find a way to help millions of people to breathe easier.

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