These cells work when suffocating

About the episode

When a sip of water goes down the wrong throat — toward the lungs instead of the stomach — most people start coughing violently.

This is because the upper airways detect water entering, which quickly sends a signal to the brain to do something about it. If stomach acid rises, something similar happens.

But until now we didn't know which cells initiate these reactions. They were found by researchers from the United States. They have now mapped the entire pathway: from the moment water or acid is discovered, to the chemicals that activate the nerves that reach the brain.

Very interesting, but also important. As we age, the strength of the cough reflex decreases. In some people due to disease, but also simply due to aging. Understanding why this happens may help people who suffer from this. The same applies to the relationship between this reflex and pneumonia, or chronic cough.

The cells studied are very special. They perform multiple tasks. They release hormones, but they also send electrical signals. These cells can also be found in the lungs, where they also respond to stress. Cells in the upper airways do not respond to pressure, but rather respond to the presence of water or acid.

They want to further examine in subsequent studies how cell function is affected by lifestyle, diseases and aging.

Read more about the research here: Scientists identify airway cells that sense inhaled water and acid reflux

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Megan Vasquez

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