Why you should be happy to sneeze

by Eric Daniels
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Sneezing is a weird thing that humans and animals do. I recently got a new puppy and It was only when I was looking at it sneezing that I wanted to know more about what triggers this strange occurrence and why. Sneezing is something that many species of animals do and there are numerous different reasons for it to occur.

The basic action of a sneeze is triggered when some irritant enters the nose and is not caught by nose hairs. It then tickles the nasal mucosa. This tells the brain that some foreign body is entering the body involuntarily and the brain creates a reflex to expel it. The brain contracts the diaphragm, throat, mouth, and face. Air is expelled from the lungs and shot out through the nose, as the mouth is only partially closed it also escaped through the mouth. 

This is not the only reason people sneeze. It is true that a high percentage of people also sneeze when they look at a bright light. This is not an allergic reaction (don’t worry you are not allergic to light). Instead, it is believed that in up to 35% of people a brain error is occurring. When you look at a bright light your pupils shrink. When your brain sends the signal to shrink your pupils it is believed that in some people the message gets interrupted and it also sends a signal to sneeze.

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Sneezing can even occur due to being sexually aroused. Scientists believe that this happens because of erectile tissue in the nose. Wild dogs in Africa have been shown to voluntarily sneeze as a form of voting when deciding if they should go hunt.

One of the common misconceptions about sneezing is that you can’t keep your eyes open. Children (and some adults) will argue that if you keep your eyes open while sneezing they may pop out. This does not make sense. If your eyes did pop out then simply closing them would not be enough to stop this occurring. More importantly, there is no muscle to cause your eyes to pop out so it won’t happen. While it is difficult to keep your eyes open some people have shown it can be done.

It is relatively easy to stop a sneeze and many of us do in situations that we deem too awkward to let one out. I have gotten so used to stopping sneezes that I rarely sneeze the normal way. It turns out that this is a really bad idea. Holding in a sneeze can cause vertigo, ruptured eardrums, and cause permanent hearing issues. The list goes on as it can injure your diaphragm, and damage blood vessels in the brain. Next time, you should just sneeze.

If you have to stop the sneeze then we still don’t recommend the hold approach. There are better physical methods to stop you from sneezing. The best way to stop a sneeze is to nip it in the bud before it takes place. You can do this by pinching your nose or touching your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Another great trick is to deeply exhale right before you need to sneeze. This one requires some great timing but if you get it right the body won’t have the required breathe to support a sneeze!

All in all, sneezing is a totally normal bodily function that you should embrace not stifle. While people and animals sneeze for many different reasons it is primarily a method used by the body to keep you safe and healthy. Next time you sneeze, enjoy it! But for everyone else’s sake please use a tissue or tuck it into your shoulder.

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