We spoke to several relatives from the Deep South last week when the pollen count in Atlanta reached 5500 particles. And small wonder that we could barely understand their scratchy voices: allergies and throat irritations are at almost record levels.
And all that yellow stuff that coats their cars and makes that yukky scummy froth on every garden pond and lake is finding its way deep into their lungs. Thank goodness for MUCOCILIARY CLEARANCE! Right?
This is one of the healthy body’s unappreciated “miracles” that keeps our lungs from becoming the waste heaps they would quickly become if all the soot, fungal spores, bacteria, dust, rug and clothing fibers AND POLLEN that we breathe in every day stayed deep inside our lungs air exchange surfaces.
Two things happen: the GOBLET CELLS that are richly scattered in this epithelium or lining tissue secrete a sticky glue–MUCUS–that traps the particles.
The CILIA are living whips–cellular organelles that are constantly in motion. And this motion is not random but coordinated–even within entire fields of such cells–so that there is a POWER STROKE and a RECOVERY STROKE. The power stroke, of course, is in the direction of UP and OUT. The cilia (as you can see in these movies) push particles toward the throat where we reflexively swallow, sending those umpteen thousand pollen grains to the hydrochloric acid in our stomachs instead of ending up in our lungs. UNLESS…
Unless you kill the cilia. If you want to do that, light a cylinder of plant material with a match. Put it to your lips and inhale. Cilia in this environment beat weakly, then stop entirely. And where does all that mucus-plus-pollen end up? You guessed it. It slides so deeply in the lungs that it can’t be coughed up–no matter how violently you try. Make a wonderful medium for bacteria. Can you say PNEUMONIA?
(Parents, this little biology lesson with movies makes a good visual motivator to the would-be smokers in your family.)