MadSci Network: Anatomy

Re: Why do you get goosebumps when you sneeze?

Date: Tue Sep 8 10:08:31 1998
Posted By: john young, Faculty, Anatomy, Howard University
Area of science: Anatomy
ID: 905038175.An

Dear Al,
  To my knowledge, sneezing is NOT invariably accompanied by goosebumps, 
although it can be.  I can only speculate why it might be.  Sneezing 
releases a blast of air through the nasopharynx to clear it of irritating 
particles.  This air rushes past 3 shelf-like bones, called nasal conchae, 
that project from the nasal septum in the midline of the nasal cavity.  
These bones are covered by a highly vascular epithelium that functions to 
transfer heat into incoming air.  A rush of air could cause a sudden 
cooling of the blood vessels in this specialized air passage and an 
associated cooling of brain structures in their viscinity.  Immediately 
above and behind the nasal conchae is the preoptic area of the 
hypothalamus, a brain area that regulates body temperature and can warm the 
body by causing shivering and piloerection (fluffing up of the hairs of the 
coat) in most mammals.  If this brain area were suddenly cooled, it could 
"misread" the body temperature and initiate reflexes to warm the body 
temporarily.  This is not as implausible as it sounds:  in dogs and similar 
animals, the major way of cooling the brain is via panting through very 
large nasal conchae and removing heat from the blood vessels (the circle of 
Willis) at the bottom of the brain.  Dogs have no other way of cooling 
themselves, since they do not sweat appreciably.

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