Why Do You Sneeze?

Quck answer

Sneezing is a reflex action that helps to clear the nasal passages from irritants and foreign substances. When these irritants, such as dust, pollen, or viruses, enter the nose, the body’s immune system reacts by triggering a sneeze. The process starts with a deep breath, followed by a sudden closing of the vocal cords and an increase in pressure in the chest. The diaphragm then contracts forcefully, pushing air out of the lungs and through the nose to expel the irritants. Sneezing is a natural defense mechanism that helps to keep the respiratory system clean and protected.


If you have a cold, allergies, or are exposed to bright sunlight, chances are you have sneezed recently. Let’s explore why this happens!

Sneezing, also known as “sternutation,” is your body’s natural reflex to eliminate something irritating from your nose. Various things, such as dust, cold air, and pepper, can irritate the inside of your nose and trigger a sneeze.

Sometimes sneezing occurs when you catch a cold or the flu. When germs and viruses take up residence in your nose, they can cause swelling and irritation. Similarly, allergies to animal dander, pet hair, or pollen can also lead to reactions in your nose.

When the inside of your nose becomes irritated, special nerves send a message to your brain. Your brain then instructs different parts of your body to work together in order to make you sneeze.

Although sneezing happens automatically, it actually involves the coordination of various parts of the body. Your abdominal muscles, chest muscles, diaphragm (the muscle responsible for breathing beneath your lungs), vocal cords, throat muscles, and even your eyelids must all work in harmony to produce a sneeze.

Did you know that you always close your eyes when you sneeze? This is a good thing because you probably don’t want to witness what comes out of your nose and mouth during a sneeze.

Speaking of what comes out, sneezing can propel irritating particles out of your nose at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour. Scientists estimate that a single sneeze can release up to 100,000 germs into the air.

That’s why it’s important to use a tissue or sneeze into your inner elbow, as your parents and teachers have probably told you. Sneezing is a common way for cold germs and flu viruses to spread easily.

Have you ever noticed that some people sneeze, sometimes multiple times, when they step out into bright sunlight? Their nose may not be irritated, and they are probably not allergic to the sun. They are what we call photic sneezers.

The term “photic” means “light,” and photic sneezers experience sneezing when exposed to bright light. This is a genetic trait that is inherited from parents and is believed to affect 18 to 35 percent of the population.

Photic sneezing has a scientific name: Autosomal Dominant Compelling Helio-Ophthalmic Outburst Syndrome. However, scientists often refer to it as “ACHOO Syndrome” for simplicity.

When you sneeze, you may hear people say things like “God bless you!” or “Gesundheit!” (the German word for “health”). These sayings originated from ancient superstitions that associated sneezing with evil spirits.

There was also an ancient myth that claimed your heart briefly stopped during a sneeze, but that is not true!

Try It Out

Ahchoo! Don’t miss out on these exciting activities. Check them out with a friend or family member:

  • If you find it difficult to imagine how thousands of germs can spread at a speed of 100 miles per hour with a single sneeze, you can try a simple experiment to help you visualize what happens. Firstly, gather some confetti. You can either purchase confetti from a party store or make your own at home using newspaper or scrap paper. Cut the scrap paper into small pieces until you have a few hundred tiny paper pieces. Next, you will need a fan. Place the fan on a flat surface and position your pile of confetti in front of it. Be prepared for some messiness during the next step, so ensure that you conduct the experiment in an area that can be easily cleaned up afterwards. When you are ready to simulate a sneeze, switch on the fan and observe what happens. The flying confetti pieces you see represent the germs that are expelled from your nose during a sneeze! Notice the quantity of confetti pieces and how far they travel. This demonstrates why it is so easy for colds and flu to be spread with just a single sneeze!
  • If you want to witness how quickly germs can spread through sneezes, you can visit the Mythbusters website and watch the Slow-Motion Sneezes video. You will be amazed – and possibly disgusted – by the speed and distance at which germs can be spread by a solitary sneeze!
  • What should you do if you are in a foreign country and someone sneezes? Saying “God bless you!” or “Gesundheit!” may not be appropriate. To have some fun and learn a few foreign phrases for saying “Bless you” around the world, you can search online for “Gesundheit! 20 Ways to Say ‘Bless You’ Around the World.” Share your newfound knowledge with a friend or family member!

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