Sneezology: the world’s sneezing habits
Although a sneeze can be sudden, embarrassing or inconvenient, it is a common everyday occurrence that you probably don’t give much thought to. But have you ever wondered why we all sneeze differently, why people give a post‐sneeze blessing or why we don’t sneeze when we’re asleep? Here are 13 fascinating facts about the world’s sneezing habits.
- A sneeze is a protective reflex – Sneezing occurs when germs, dust and allergens like dust mites or pollen irritate the nasal lining. Tiny nerve endings in the nose send a message to the brain which signals to the chest muscles to tighten, pressure builds and sends a blast of air upward that is forced out of the nose1 (and often the mouth) with the ultimate goal of getting rid of the irritant and clearing the airways. Sometimes it takes two, three or four goes.
- Sneezing styles differ around the globe – While our sneeze of choice is “ah‐choo”, the French say “atchoum”, the Japanese say “Hakashun” and Russians say “Apchkhi”. Interestingly, deaf people sneeze silently. Apparently this is the natural way to sneeze whereas people with unaffected hearing feel compelled to add sound effects because it is deemed socially appropriate.2
- Sneezes are super speedy – Most sneezes travel at around 160km/hr3 but the fastest ever recorded sneeze was clocked at 265km/hr!4
- Sneeze spray can travel up to five feet away and expel 100,000 germs3,5 – All the more reason to cover our mouths and noses to protect innocent bystanders.
- You don’t sneeze when you snooze – When we rest so do our sneezing nerves,3 which breaks the chain reaction of the typical sneeze.
- Dust and pollen aren’t the only things to make us sneeze – Plucking our eyebrows can set off a nerve in the face that supplies the nasal passages causing us to sneeze,3 and bright sunlight causes one out of three people to sneeze (known as ‘photics’), which is an inherited trait.3 Pepper is another sneezing catalyst as it contains the chemical piperine, which can be an irritant if it gets in the nose.5
- Your heart does not stop when you sneeze – Contrary to popular belief our heart keeps on ticking when we sneeze. When our chest contracts prior to a sneeze, our blood flow is momentarily constricted as well and as a result our heart rhythm may change, but definitely doesn’t stop.3
- The longest sneezing spree was over 977 days – This was a record set by 12 year old Donna Griffiths in 1981‐83, who sneezed every minute to start with and then slowed to one every 5 minutes.6 No word on what caused her to sneeze or how she finally stopped.
- The way someone sneezes says a lot about their personality – Body language experts believe that those who hold in sneezes have a quiet and caring character, those who sneeze loudly and quickly tend to be direct and forward‐thinking and those that make a big production out of sneezing, often sneezing multiple times, are showy and domineering.7
- With sneezing comes superstition – In some Asian cultures sneezing is a sign that someone is talking about you behind your back,5 in India a pre‐work sneeze is considered a bad omen8 and post‐sneeze blessings stem from the belief that when someone sneezes their souls sneak out of their body and saying ‘God bless you’ will keep them safe from evil.8
- Our eyes will not pop out of our heads if we sneeze with our eyes open7 – Our eye sockets are more than strong enough to hold the eyes in place during a sneeze, but many of us reflexively close our eyes during a sneezing episode, though it is not known why.
- The sneeziest animal is the Iguana – Sneezing is how the Iguana rids its body of certain salts that are normal by‐products of their digestive processes3
- A full stomach can bring on a sneezing attack – This is a genetic disorder known as the ‘snatiation reflex’ or Sneezing Non‐controllably At a Time of Indulgence of the Appetite. It results from the stomach stretching following excessive eating.9