All About Sneezing: Dr. Starbuck Explains

Jan 9, 2018

Hi!  I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck, a naturopathic family physician.  I’m here today with health tips for kids about: sneezing.

Ahhh choo!  Ahhh choo!

Everybody knows about sneezing because everybody does it!  Sneezing is blasting air out of your nose like a great big explosion.  Scientists have measured the speed of air in a sneeze.  In some people air comes out at 100 miles an hour!

We sneeze to get rid of something that is annoying to our nose.  When stuff irritates or tickles your nose, your body sends a message to your brain. Your brain sends a message back and tells the all the muscles you need for a sneeze to get to work.  You have to use your belly, your chest, your throat and even your vocal cords.  It’s a lot of work.  That’s why without even knowing it, we take a big, deep breath before we sneeze. 

Sneezing can be a sign that you are getting sick.  Germs get into your body through your nose.  When that happens, your nose gets irritated and you sneeze.  If you sneeze out enough of the germs before they multiply, you won’t get sick.  But, if you sneeze those germs right on to someone else, not only is it gross and disgusting, but the other person can get sick from your germs.  So when you sneeze, cover your nose with a tissue or a handkerchief or even your sleeve. 

To sneeze, you have to use your belly, your chest, your throat and even your vocal cords. It's a lot of work.

It’s also true that sneezing doesn’t always mean that someone is sick.  You can sneeze from getting things like dust or pepper or pollen in your nose.  I sneeze every time I use a chain saw because the saw dust tickles my nose.  (Fortunately, I feel it coming and turn the saw off before I sneeze).

Just breathing cold air on a frosty day can make some people sneeze.  If you’re allergic to animals, you’ll explode out a big old ahhh-choo when their hair or dander or fur gets in your nose.

A totally different kind of sneeze is a photic sneeze response.  Photic means light.  There are a whole bunch of people, someplace between 20 and 35 percent of humans, who are photic sneezers.  That means they sneeze when they look at bright light.  They’ll sneeze when they look directly at the sun or if someone shines a bright flashlight in their eyes.  If you’re a photic sneezer, don’t worry.  It’s not dangerous or contagious.  It’s just good to know about so you don’t look directly at the sun when you’re doing something where sneezing would be a problem – like getting ready to bat in a baseball game, or riding your bike up a hill, or pushing a lawnmower or using a knife. 

When you sneeze, cover your nose with a tissue or a handkerchief or even your sleeve.

There are lots of myths about sneezing.  My favorite is the one that says if you keep your eyes open when you sneeze, your eyes will pop right out of their sockets.  This is not true. 

It is true is that our eyes are naturally closed when we sneeze.  The muscles of the face are working so hard to make a sneeze that they don’t want to also do the work needed to keep your eyes open.  You have to put in a lot of effort to keep your eyes open during a sneeze.  It’s pretty hard to do, but if you decide to try, don’t worry about your eyes popping out.  They should be just fine. 

Sneezing is also an opportunity to say something kind, like ‘bless you’ to another person when they sneeze.  Kindness helps all of us feel better, and I think it's very good for our health.

I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck and I’m wishing you well.