Sneezing is all about getting rid of an irritant in our nose right?  We learnt that as a kid.   But is it really that simple?

Yes, sneezing is a protective mechanism to expel a foreign substance in our nose.  An irritant enters your nose, gets entangled in nose hair, stimulates nerve endings, and sends a red flag to a part of the brain stem called the medulla.  The medulla controls involuntary functions such as breathing, digestion, and heart rate. Once the message is received, the brain triggers a response that involves closing your eyes, taking a deep breath, relaxing the muscles in your throat, and then forcing air, saliva, and mucus out of your nose and mouth.

Although this mechanism is the same in everyone, how people sneeze is almost as unique as their voice. The differences in people’s lung capacity and structure of their nose, throat, and mouth will dictate how the person sneezes.

Sneezing is most often caused by irritants including environmental (smoke, perfumes, pollution), allergies (pet dander, pollen), infections (colds, flus), dry air (which irritate the mucous membranes in the nose), and of course, pepper (contains a substance called piperine that irritates the nasal passages).  There are other more particular triggers.  Some people sneeze after sex.  No one knows for sure why, although both sneezing and sexual arousal are controlled by the same part of the nervous system. As well, some people sneeze after a very large meal.  People also sneeze when suddenly exposed to bright light or when looking directly into the sun.

Still have questions about sneezing?  Check this out…

Why do we close our eyes? It is possible to sneeze with our eyes open, however that natural reaction is to close the eyes to shield them from any irritants that might be ejected during the sneeze.

Why do we sometimes sneeze many times in a row? If your body feels it did not clear your nasal passages in the first sneeze your body will initiate further sneezes.  You really don’t have a say in this.

Why do sneezes feel good? Sneezing gives a similar sense of relieve to that of scratching an itch.  To some degree sneezing emulates an orgasmic experience.  Both provide and intense release of built-up tension.  As well, the muscle contractions required to sneeze may trigger a small rush of endorphins.

Is it bad to hold a sneeze? Holding back a sneeze and all that built up pressure could rupture an eardrum or blood vessels in your eyes or brain.  As well, any bacteria or irritant that would be flushed out by the sneeze may be forced to your ear causing an ear infection.

How to stop sneezing?  Continuous sneezing can be annoying.  To remedy the problem, you first need to determine the cause of the sneezing.  If it’s seasonal allergies, you can use an over the counter medication to help.  If it’s in relation to a certain perfume, smoke, or specific foods, you should limit your exposure to those irritants. If you can’t determine the cause best to talk to your doctor or health care provider to determine your next steps.

No matter what the cause, when you sneeze, make sure you practice good sneeze etiquette.  Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or sneeze directly into your elbow.