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Why do we sneeze?

We sneeze because the nasal mucosa, or nerve endings of the mucous membrane of the nose, is irritated by foreign particles such as dust, pollen or a tiny insect that made its way into your nose! Sneezing, which is a reflex act and completely beyond our control, is our body's way of ejecting the irritating bodies.  During a sneeze, the soft palate and uvula depress while the back of the tongue elevates to partially close the passage to the mouth so that air ejected from the lungs may be expelled through the nose. Because the closing of the mouth is partial, a considerable amount of this air is usually also expelled from the mouth.

Sneezing can also be triggered through a particularly full stomach or  a viral infection. Weird as it may sound, sneezing can also be caused by sudden exposure to bright light.  Autosomal Dominant Compelling Helioophthalmic Outburst (ACHOO) Syndrome is a genetic autosomal dominant disorder that results in uncontrollable sneezing in response to numerous stimuli, such as looking at bright lights or periocular injection. The condition affects 18-35% of the population, and its exact mechanism of action is not well understood.

As to the old wives' tales that say that the heart stop momentarily as a person sneezes or that a brain cell die each time we undergo sternutation (that's a fancy term for sneezing), these are NOT true!  However, it is true that a rapid sequence of sneezes may cause the heart to skip a beat.

If you sneeze too hard, you can fracture a rib.
If you try to suppress a sneeze, you can rupture a blood vessel in your head or neck and die.
If you keep your eyes open while sneezing, they can pop out.
If you try to suppress a fart and a sneeze at the same time, you could blow your head off like a champagne cork.

 

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