A woman using a tissue to cover her sneeze.
Healthy Living

Why Do We Sneeze?

Aug 13 2020
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If you think about it, our bodies do some pretty strange things — like sneezing, for example. It often comes out of nowhere, and it feels like it takes over your entire body.

So, why do we sneeze? Learn more about the science behind it, along with some other facts about sneezing.

Why we sneeze

When you sneeze, it’s usually your body’s way of getting rid of any foreign objects in your nose. Smoke, dust, bacteria, pollen — your body wants to keep anything that shouldn’t be there out of your nostrils. It’s your own way of protecting yourself from getting sick.

When any foreign objects gets into your nostrils, this sends a message to your brain, which then tells the rest of your body to get ready for a sneeze.  Allergic reactions, infections that impact your nose, colds, the flu and COVID-19 can all cause sneezing.

What is a photic sneeze?

For approximately 11% to 35% of the human population, not all sneezes happen because of foreign objects in the nose. In some instances, a sneeze may be due to a photic reflex. This means that some people sneeze when they go out into the sun and are exposed to bright lights.

No one knows exactly what causes this type of sneeze. But it’s something you can inherit from your parents, and it occurs mostly in white females.

Other reasons we sneeze

There are a few other actions that can set off a sneeze in some people. They stimulate the same nerve that tells your brain there’s a foreign object in the nose. These causes include:

  • Cold air
  • Exercise
  • Spicy food
  • Drug withdrawal
  • Extreme emotions
  • Sexual intercourse
  • Trauma to the nose
  • Plucking your eyebrows

How to stop sneezing

A woman in England once sneezed for 978 days straight, setting a world record! While it’s common to sneeze two or three times in a row, sneezing daily could be a sign of a problem. And the best way to stop it is to identify what the problem is.

Sometimes, it’s easy to identify. For example, if you sneeze every time you’re around a cat, you probably have a pet dander allergy. If you come down with a cold, the flu or another virus, that’s probably what set off your sneezing. Sometimes the answer isn’t so obvious, and you may need to contact your primary care physician to get more answers.

Other facts about sneezing

Sneezes happen quickly — at a rate of 100 miles per hour to be exact. But did you know that you’ll never sneeze while you’re sleeping because your nerves are asleep too?

Here are a few other fun facts about sneezing:

  • Some people believe your heart stops when you sneeze. That’s not true, but your eyes do close.
  • There’s a good reason to cover your mouth when you sneeze. The germs that you expel can land up to 30 feet away.
  • If you have a dog or cat, you probably know that animals sneeze. But did you know that iguanas sneeze more than any other animals? It’s part of their digestive process and helps them get rid of salt in their bodies.

Learn about the health care services we offer at Bon Secours.


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