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What Are the Causes of Sneezing?

Ranjan Shandilya Apr 14, 2019
Did you know that you don't sneeze in your sleep? This is because while sleeping, the sneezing nerves are also resting. Now, wasn't that an interesting fact? So, read on to know more about a sneeze, how to control it, and a few superstitions attached to it.
Ahh - choo... Did you just sneeze? Well, something was probably tickling the insides of your nose. Sneezing is also known as sternutation, and it is your body's way to remove the irritating particles present in your nose. Technically, a sneeze is defined as a semi-autonomous, convulsive expulsion of air present in the lungs.

What Causes a Sneeze?

► When a particle passes through the nasal hair and reaches the nasal mucosa, it triggers the production of histamines. These histamines reach the nerve cells present in the nose, which in turn sends a signal to the brain to initiate the sneeze.
► The brain understands the signal and helps create a large opening of the nasal cavity that results in the release of air and bioparticles. A sneeze is pretty forceful and this can be attributed to the fact that along with the nose and mouth, numerous organs of the upper body are also involved.
► A sneeze is a response that involves the muscles of the face, chest, and throat. It causes the particles to fly out of the nose at the rate of 100 miles per hour.
► It is a common myth that the heart skips a beat when we sneeze. The truth is that when we sneeze, a positive pressure (Valsalva maneuver) is created on the heart, which led to the origin of the myth that the heart stops beating.
► Almost anything can irritate the insides of your nose, the most common being dust particles. When we catch a cold, the virus present in the nose causes a lot of swelling and irritation. Some people suffer from allergies and sneeze when exposed to certain particles like pollen from plants or animal dander.
Photic Sneeze Reflex
The medical condition in which people sneeze upon being suddenly exposed to bright light is known as photic sneeze reflex. About 17 to 35% of humans suffer from this condition, and it is passed genetically as an autosomal dominant trait.
Another trigger for uncontrollable bursts of sneezing in some individuals is a full stomach after a particularly large meal. This medical disorder is known as snatiation and is also passed genetically as an autosomal dominant trait.

How to Stop Sneezing

Uncontrollable sneezes that come up suddenly cannot be stopped. However, if you can feel the sneeze coming, then these techniques may help as they will force you to focus on a physical condition other than the sneeze:
  • When you feel the first tingle of the sneeze, pinch the tip of your nose.
  • Press at the center of the upper lip with your finger.
  • Using the tip of your tongue, tickle the roof of your mouth. It takes about 10 seconds for the sneeze to dissipate.
  • Tickling the ear lobe will also help.
  • Concentrate on the space between the eyebrows. Imagine that something is touching it until the urge to sneeze subsides.
The provided tips should be used to alter your focus to other physical activities to avoid another sneeze if you can feel it coming. However, they should not be used to stifle or hold back a sneeze, as it can be dangerous. Holding a sneeze can damage the sinus along with the inner ear and brain cells.

Some Cultural Beliefs

☛ People across the world associate various superstitions to sneezes. For example, in India a common superstition is that a sneeze that takes place before the start of any work is an indication of a bad interruption. Hence, people generally take a break or drink a glass of water before commencing the work again.
☛ In almost all English-speaking countries, the common response to a sneeze by the people around is 'God bless you'. Although the origin of this tradition is not known, the most common explanations focus on the idea of preventing the soul from escaping the body or an effort to prevent death. However, these days, it is mostly said in spirit of good manners.

The Guinness Record

Believe it or not, an entry for the longest attack of sneezing is present in the Guinness World Book of Records. A 12-year-old girl called Donna Griffiths from England holds the record.
Her sneezing attack lasted for 977 days from January 1981 to September 1983 and produced more than a million sneezes. At the beginning, the sneezes were very frequent, but towards the end, they occurred every 5 minutes.
In the end, hoping that this write-up has provided some interesting information about sneezing. So, the next time you hear someone sneeze, make sure that you bless them.
Disclaimer: This is for informative purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.