We all sneeze, but there are different reasons why we do it. The technical term for sneezing is sternutation. It’s an involuntary, convulsive expulsion of air from the lungs through the mouth and nose. Although it may be embarrassing, sneezing is beneficial. The primary purpose of a sneeze is to expel foreign particles or irritants from the nasal mucosa.
How Sneezing Works? – Usually, sneezing occurs when irritants aren’t caught by nasal hairs and touch the nasal mucosa. Irritation may also occur from an infection or allergic reaction. You cannot sneeze while sleeping because of REM atonia, in which motor neurons stop relaying reflex signals to the brain. However, an irritant may wake you up to sneeze.
Sneezing in Bright Light – If bright lights make you sneeze, you’re not alone. Scientists estimate 18% to 35% of people experience photic sneezing. If you experience it, one or both of your parents experienced it too! Sneezing in response to bright light does not indicate an allergy to the Sun. Scientists think the signal sent to the brain to shrink pupils in response to light may cross paths with the signal to sneeze.
More Reasons for Sneezes – Besides reacting to irritants or bright light, sneezing happens for other reasons too. Some people sneeze when they feel a cold draft. Others sneeze when they pluck their eyebrows. Sneezing immediately following a big meal is called snatiation. Snatiation, like photic sneezing, is an autosomal dominant (inherited) trait.
Sneezing and Your Eyes – It’s true that you generally can’t keep your eyes open when you sneeze. Cranial nerves link both the eyes and the nose to the brain, so the stimulus to sneeze also triggers the eyelids to close. However, the reason for the response isn’t to protect your eyes from popping out of your head! Sneezing is powerful, but there isn’t any muscle behind the eye that could contract to eject your peepers.
Sneezing More Than Once – It’s perfectly normal to sneeze twice or multiple times in a row. This is because it may take more than one sneeze to dislodge and eject irritants. How many times you sneeze in a row varies from a person to another and depends on the reason for the sneeze.
What Happens When You Hold in a Sneeze? – According to Dr. Allison Woodall, an audiologist at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, holding your nose and mouth closed to stifle a sneeze can cause vertigo, rupture your eardrums, and lead to hearing loss. It can also injure your diaphragm, rupture blood vessels in your eyes, and even weaken or rupture blood vessels in your brain! It’s best to let a sneeze out.
If you feel a sneeze coming on, try a physical preventative method:
- Gently pinch the bridge of your nose until the urge to sneeze passes.
- Press your tongue on the roof of your mouth.
- Hold your breath and count to ten.
- Deeply exhale the air in your lungs so it won’t be available to support a sneeze.