Did we develop the sneezing mechanism to get rid of pathogens like bacteria and viruses in our nose?

Or did pathogens develop a way to make us sneeze to propagate themselves?

Or did we develop the sneezing mechanism, and then pathogens hijacked this pathway to benefit themselves?

I'm trying to understand why we sneeze so much when we get sick - is it our bodies trying to help us, or is it something the pathogen is causing to help itself spread? And if it's both, how did that happen?

  • $\begingroup$ Although your question is quite interesting, it appears to be very broad; you can possibly find entire books/reviews dedicated to this topic (if there is already an answer). $\endgroup$
    Mar 6, 2019 at 13:19
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    $\begingroup$ By "we" do you mean humans? Because sneezing is shared at least across tetrapods. $\endgroup$
    – kmm
    Mar 6, 2019 at 14:22
  • $\begingroup$ Sneezing is a response to an irritant, any irritant, including pepper, pollen, dust, someone sticking a hair up your nose, etc. No pathogens necessary. That should answer the question. $\endgroup$ Mar 8, 2019 at 3:14
  • $\begingroup$ @kmm I meant all organisms that sneeze. But the point that we sneeze in response to any irritant answers my question - I guess it's just lucky for pathogens that the sneezing response propagates them. Thanks for your answers! $\endgroup$
    – CC333
    Mar 13, 2019 at 4:29

1 Answer 1


Sneezing itself is a part of long story of human evolution.

Sneezing for early humans was as common as eating is for us. Early humans lived in caves which were full of dust and insects so whenever they wake up from sleep they sneezed intentionally to remove the dust and small insects from their nose, slowly this behaviour of early humans was proved to be beneficial and muscle memories remembered the Activity as a daily routine work and performed it to remove dust and any irritant in their nose or nasal cavity. As they evolved they passed on their daily routine works to their descendants and this was also passed on , this way sneezing was slowly incorporated into the muscle memories and it exists till now as a way to relax is from external allergens.

There are several other theories too about evolution of sneezing and it itself demands great research . There is also a video on Veritasium on YouTube regarding the Sneezing whenever one sees light , this video too discusses this theory. You should check that out too.

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    $\begingroup$ This answer needs citations and an explanation of why my dog also sneezes. $\endgroup$
    – kmm
    Mar 10, 2019 at 18:44

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