By Emily Laskowski – October 3, 2013

Sneeze:  To make a sudden, violent, spasmodic, audible expiration of breath through the nose and mouth, especially as a reflex act (Merriam-Webster).

What causes a sneeze?  Any irritation to the nose or throat.  Some common causes are:

  • Allergy to pollen, mold, dander, dust
  • Chemicals from certain nose sprays
  • Common cold or the flu
  • Triggers such as dust, air pollution, dry air, powders, and spicy foods

Sunlight can make you sneeze.  It’s called the photic sneeze reflex, and even Aristotle pondered “why?”  (It’s an unexplained genetic quirk.)

Only 5 percent of people actually cover their coughs or sneezes with their elbow or a tissue.  Help prevent the spread of germs by remembering to cover your cough or sneeze and wash your hands!

Germs from sneezing can live on surfaces such as a doorknob or table for up to two hours. During that time, those germs can still travel to others who touch that surface, spreading disease and causing unhappy holiday seasons.

Vampire Sneeze vs. Cupped Hand

In the past, people were encouraged to place a cupped hand over their nose when they sneezed (or over their mouth for a cough).  However, this action transfers germs to the hand, which is then used to touch other surfaces.  Sneezing into the crook of the elbow (the Vampire Sneeze—imagine your pulling that cape over the lower half of your face) places those germs on the less accessible fabric of a garment of the crook of an arm.

Fact or Fable? Keeping your eyes open while sneezing can cause your eyeballs to pop out.

Contrary to popular schoolyard belief, eyes are well secured in their sockets and are not going to pop out due to any amount of sneezing.  Although sneezes can be forceful, there isn’t a muscle located behind either eye to even push the eyeball beyond its socket.

Why do you close your eyes when you sneeze?   The nose and eyes are linked by cranial nerves, which trigger a blink.

Responses after sneezing developed from a variety of ancient beliefs involving escaping souls and evil spirits.  Some thought the spirit might escape from the nose to be claimed by the devil; others believed that evil spirits could enter the body after a sneeze.  It was believed that that the heart momentarily stops during a sneeze and the sneezer subsequently needed to be welcomed back to life.

Be multicultural:

German = Gesundheit (“health”)

Arabic = Alhamdulillah (“praise be to God”)

Russian =  bud zdorov(“be healthy”); added for children is rosti bolshoi (“grow big”)

Chinese = bai sui (“may you live 100 years”), used for children

English = “God bless you” (attributed to Pope Gregory the Great; it became popular during the bubonic plague outbreak in the sixth century, as sneezing is a clear symptom of one form of the catastrophic illness)


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