Common Sneezing Questions Answered

Myths and Fact About Sneezing

Outdoor portrait of sneezing boy
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Sneezing used to be thought of as a means for the body to drive out evil spirits. But today, we know that the sudden forceful expulsion of air through the nose and mouth is caused by irritation of the mucous membrane. Functional and less scary, but more, well, boring? Here's everything you've ever wanted to know about sneezing — plus a few things you probably didn't even know you wanted to know.

What Causes Sneezing?

Sneezing is your body's way of removing an irritant from your nose.

When something's causing a tickle or itch, your brain sends a signal to get rid of the invader as soon as possible, in the form of a sneeze. Your abdominal muscles, chest muscles, diaphragm, vocal cord muscles, throat muscles and eyelid muscles are all recruited to help you sneeze.

Common causes of sneezing include:

Sneezing Myths and Legends

Sneezing has fascinated people throughout history. There are many myths, legends and misunderstanding about sneezing. Some of these include:

What is the Force of a Sneeze?

A popular myth, based on old science, is that a sneeze can leave the body at a speed of about 93 miles per hour. However, more recent research shows that a sneeze actually leaves the body at about 10 miles per hour, which is about the same force as a cough.

What is the Longest Sneezing Attack?

According to common folklore, a 12-year-old in England named Donna Griffiths holds the longest attack of sneezing on record. Apparently, she sneezed for over 977 days between January 1981 and September 1983. At first she sneezed every minute, but as the days moved into weeks and years her sneezes occurred about every five minutes.

Does the Heart Stop When We Sneeze?

There is a common belief that the heart stops whenever we sneeze. It does not, although it can feel like your heart changes beat. Positive pressure is created in the chest when we sneeze (or cough), and that can momentarily alter the forcefulness with which your heart beats.

Is Sneezing Life-Threatening?

There have been some misconceptions that sneezing might be life threatening, however there are no recorded cases of anyone ever dying from letting out a sneeze. However, because you reflexively close your our eyes during each sneeze, it is possible that an ill-timed sneeze while driving could mean you fail to notice the car in front of you, or that the light has turned red. So, sneeze carefully!

Why Do We Say Bless You?

At least 1,500 years ago, people believed that the soul temporary left a body during a sneeze. This means that the body would be left temporarily without a soul, leaving it vulnerable to being occupied by the devil. Saying "God bless you" was meant to safeguard the sneezer from having this happen to them while their soul was out of their body.

Who would have thought there would be so much to learn about sneezing?


Engber, D. (2013, September 17). FYI: How Forceful Is A Sneeze? Retrieved March 04, 2016 from Popular Science online.

Health Promotion Board. (2013, August 16). Secret admirers, blessings, and sex - Interesting beliefs about sneezing. Retrieved March 3, 2016.

The Nemours Foundation. (n.d.). What Makes Me Sneeze? Retrieved March 04, 2016 from

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