The Facts On Sneezing: What You Need To Know

By Tiffany Tseng. May 7th 2016

Sneezing is a fast and semi-involuntary expulsion of air, and sometimes mucus, through the nose and the mouth. Since the sinus does not have voluntary muscles, sneezing is a preventative reflex intended to protect our body from harmful organisms and substances.

Most of the time, sneezing is an action triggered by irritants on the mucosa lining of the nasal passage or sinus. They can also be triggered by other factors that also stimulate the nerve responsible for sneezing. For example, scratching your eyebrow may trigger a sneeze, as the nerves in that area are very closely located with the "sneeze nerve," and synapses may overlap.

Sneezing Can Be And Indicator For:

Sneezing may be an indication or a symptom to some health conditions, such as:

  • Allergy: If you sneeze right after a cat has crossed your path, it does not mean that you will also have bad luck for the next seven years along with the sneeze. Instead, it may be an indication that you may be allergic to the animal. Since allergens are, in short, irritants our bodies react to, they are usually the main culprit of sneezing. But hey, at least you know what you are now allergic to!
  • Dry sinus: Similar to the idea of coughing due to a dry throat, sneezes can sometimes be triggered simply by a dry sinus. For individuals who often workout in an air conditioned room or live in arid spaces, the sinus may dry out. Since sneezing produces mucus that can provide lubrication, the body may induce such reaction to moisturize the sinus.
  • Possibility of cold or flu: Bacteria, virus, and other microorganisms irritate the nasal passage and prompt sneezes, and may indicate that a common cold or the flu is looming in the near future. Be sure to take preventative measures and boost up your immune system just in case.
  • Possibility of sinus problems: Continuous, wet sneezes may lead to sinus problems and inflammation if left untreated over long periods of time. Mucus and snot buildup in the sinus is an excellent breeding ground for infectious bacteria and viruses. Many times sneezing alone cannot completely expel all mucus. It can also cause inflammation, which may lead to more serious sinus problems. Be sure to see a doctor if you're experiencing a drippy nose, lots of sneezes, and no relief whatsoever.
  • Photic sneezing: Approximately, 25 percent of the human population has an inherited genetic condition called "photic sneezing." For these special people, their nerves are more sensitive to light than others. Hence, sunshine or a burst of sudden light may trigger sneezes in those people.

Tips To Control Sneezing

Thankfully, the majority of sneezes are benign and are not fatal, but some people find sneezing to be unpleasant. Here are a few tips that can help alleviate sneezing:

  • Take a huge breath and hold your nose
  • Get rid of allergens that trigger sneezes
  • Boost your immune system with vitamin C as a preventative measure
  • Think about investing in an air filtration device
  • Don't travel too much during pollen-heavy seasons, such as spring and fall
  • Wear a filtration mask when working with chemical powders, sprays, or dusty areas
  • Get rid of animals or plants that you are allergic to
  • See your doctor for proper medication that may relieve your sneezing. Some can be found over the counter, and some via prescription

Sneezing Fun Facts

  • Your eyes will not pop out if you open your eyes during sneezing. They are firmly anchored in place by your eye muscles, and may only bulge out a bit. In fact, it is a natural reflex for the eyelids to close, so it is impossible to keep them open naturally during a sneeze.
  • Your heart does not stop during a sneeze. Your chest constricts right before firing off a sneeze, so it may give the illusion that your heart stopped for a beat.
  • It is possible to have sexually-induced sneezes. According to some studies, activation of our parasympathetic nervous system, which is also responsible for sexual arousal, happens during sneezing for some people
  • Some people believe that the sensation of a sneeze is 1/8th of that of a sexual orgasm.
  • A sneeze can travel at about 100 miles per hour and send roughly 100,000 germs into the air.
  • The droplet spray induced from a sneeze, usually a mix of saliva and mucus, can radiate to about five feet.
  • You cannot sneeze in your sleep, because simply, your nerves are also sleeping and cannot be provoked.
  • As sneezes are fully laden with bacteria, be sure to sneeze into your sleeve rather than your hand so you won't pass your "cooties" onto the next hand you shake or the next door handle you touch.


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