The Wonders of the Human Body

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Ever wondered why we sneeze, why we get goosebumps or why yawning is contagious? We solve just a few of the weirdest and most wonderful mysteries of the human body.

Why Do We Sneeze? Put simply, sneezing is a defence mechanism which removes foreign particles that irritate the lining of our nasal passages. We most often sneeze due to a cold; sneezing eliminates bacteria but allergies also cause sneezing and even those who do not test positive for allergic rhinitis can react to allergens by sneezing. One in three people inherit photic sneezing, believed to be a congenital defect, which causes sneezing on exposure to bright light.

What’s The Point Of Goosebumps? Goosebumps occur when tiny muscles at the base of the hair follicles tighten, causing the hair to stand erect when a person is cold, scared or excited. By observing animals, scientists concluded that we get goosebumps when cold because the hair traps air to create insulation and when in a state of high emotion, in animals, to make one appear larger and more intimidating, a leftover from our earlier incarnations.

Why Is Yawning Contagious? Contrary to popular belief yawning is not a sign of tiredness but designed to keep us awake by cooling the brain and helping us to work more efficiently. Therefore, some scientists believe that contagious yawning is triggered by empathic mechanisms which maintain vigilance in a group.

Why Do Milkshakes Give Me Brain Freeze? Caused by eating or drinking extremely cold substances, brain freeze or an ice cream headache occurs when something cold touches the roof of the mouth or is swallowed. The effect is a result of the rapid freezing and then warming of the blood vessels in the palate which nearby pain receptors send to the brain, which then reads the message as referred pain in the forehead.

Why Do Old People Get Up So Early? It’s a common myth that the elderly sleep less than younger adults. In fact, it’s a combination of earlier nights, daytime naps and a change in hormones which has pensioners down at the newsagent at the crack of dawn. Melatonin and growth hormones affect the way we sleep and a lack of both make older people tired earlier and awaken earlier. Conversely, it is the amount of melatonin in their bodies which keeps teens in bed until midday.

What Makes Me Hiccup? Excessive eating and drinking, stress or excitement can cause hiccups which scientists suggest may be caused by the fact that our distant ancestors lived in the sea. A similar system has been observed in amphibians who use the action for gill ventilation, but the fact that hiccups still exist points to the reflex’s usefulness in helping mammals learn to suckle.

Why Is It So Difficult to Cure The Common Cold? The common cold is a virus and these cannot generally speaking be cured (at least so far); the only hope against any virus is vaccination – as we have all heard as health officials aim to protect us against COVID 19. However, there are so many strains of cold and flu – around 200 – that it is extremely difficult to find a cure-all without vaccinating a person 200 times.

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