When we are asleep you do not sneeze.  A sneeze is the reaction of a stimulated motor neuron and if there is enough of a stimuli one will wake up before you sneeze.

When you sleep is determined by which neurotransmitters are binding to which receptors on different nerve cells or neurons in the brain Neurons at the base of the brain stop neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and norepinephrine, that keep us awake from binding to neurons in the brainstem. The chemical adenosine also contributes to when you want to sleep by building up in blood causing us to feel drowsy.

When we sleep we enter four stages that cycle throughout the night.  We start at stage 1, light sleep, eyes move very slowly and muscle activity slows or you experience sudden muscle contractions called hypnic myoclonia. It is easy to awaken in this stage and so if an irritant is stimulating a sneeze reflex, you wake up before sneezing. In stage 2, eye movement stops and our brain waves become slower. Although brain activity is slowing we can still wake up in time to sneeze.  In stage 3 and 4, deep sleep, our brain waves are very slow, there is no eye movement, and no muscle activity.  It is very unlikely to wake up to sneeze in these stages of sleep to sneeze because brain activity is low and the medulla, which controls sneezing is relaxing.  During these stages of sleep breathing slows and body temperature lowers, partly because these are also controlled by the medulla, which is relaxing.

So tonight you can sleep soundly knowing you wont sneeze unless you suddenly wake up in time to achooo!





Some myths and clarifications about sneezing

Beliefs from around the world!
During the middle ages in Europe, one’s life was tied to one’s breath and expelling it as a sneeze led people to believe it was fatal, and so the response was, “God bless you”. Germans say “Gesundheit” after a sneeze which means ‘good health’, recognizing it as a mere sign of coming down with illness.

In Eastern Asia, sneezing is considered a sign of being talked about. It is believed that the person sneezing is being mentioned by someone in some part of the world! The number of sneezes is as important. One sneeze means the discussion about you is good; two sneezes mean the discussions could be negative.

In France, when one sneezes, they say ‘May your dreams come true’ – so sneezing is a lucky charm for the French. Three sneezes in succession in Holland mean it’s going to be a sunny day tomorrow!

Superstitions associated with sneezing:
In northern parts of India, sneezing before stepping out of the house or at the onset of a new task or journey is considered ill luck. Whereas, in the western parts of India, sneezing means that someone is thinking about you. For the married women, it is believed that it is their mother-in-law who’s thinking about them. Somewhat creepy…right?

In the Badaga community of the Tamils in India, it is considered a good omen if the father sneezes before the umbilical cord has been cut when the baby is born. In some parts of India, it is also believed that while talking about something if someone nearby sneezes, then there is a strong possibility of your talks or thoughts coming true. In West Bengal, it is called ‘Shotti hachi’ meaning if someone sneezes while a person is talking about something it will come true, whether good or bad. This idea is also shared in some parts of south India, especially Karnataka.

In the other parts, like Tamil Nadu and Kerala, it is considered inauspicious to sneeze upon an idea or journey, just like the north Indians; though a subsequent sneeze cancels the effect of the first one.

Here is a Japanese superstition about sneezing. If you sneeze once, people think that somebody is gossiping about the person and it is good one. If it happens twice, that turns to be bad gossip, and even more in third time sneeze.

Other Cultural Myths

Connections between sneezing and spiritual peril account for concerns in many cultures. From Ireland to Mexico to England, sneezing myths differ only over whether a sneeze might let the soul out or evil spirits in. Many myths suggest that this – and not the spreading of fluids or sickness – accounted for the custom of putting the hand over the mouth when sneezing.

A neighbor claimed that her Mexican grandmother crossed her first and second fingers in a primitive cross when she sneezed to protect her soul from escaping. Whether you are wishing for health or help from God, the salutations surely are indications of the myths behind the reflexive wish.

Some myths defy classification. Lawrence reports that, according to Welsh folklore, a cat’s sneeze forecasts a cold summer and snow in the winter. In Sussez, a cat’s sneeze meant bad luck for someone in the house. Lawrence also notes that both Polynesians and Native Americans share the same belief that someone is talking about them if people sneeze. At one time, Irish people saw sneezing in infants as a sign that they were breaking a fairy spell.

Now, onto the topic that everybody should be excited about! Orgasms and Sneezing! Oh yeah!

According to one myth, there is a correlation between sneezing and orgasms. A magic number of sneezes is equal to an orgasm. So sneezing could give you a pleasurable feeling. But, don’t go around forcing sneezing to get that feeling! Haha!

Summarized Words from Dr. Mark McMahon, a San Francisco dentist who doubles as a standup comic on sneezing and sex: sneezing is better than sex. It’s a mini-instant orgasm. You keep your clothes on, you don’t get involved, you can do it in public, and when you are done, total strangers bless you with a big smile on their faces.

Woman: (sneezes and moans several times)

Man: “Excuse me, but is everything OK?”

Woman: “Yes, it’s just that I have this condition where every time I sneeze I have an orgasm.”

Man: “Are you taking anything for it?”

Woman: (smiling) “Yes. Pepper.”


It’s not true that your heart stops when you sneeze. When your chest contracts because of a sneeze, your blood flow is momentarily constricted as well. As a result, the rhythm of your heart may change, but it definitely doesn’t stop.








Why are my pants wet when the only thing I did was sneeze?

Weak bladders in women:

Urine Leakage: A Common Health Problem for Women of All Ages

The reason I am talking about weak urinary bladders in women is that often, sneezing is not the first thing that comes to one’s mind when talking about urine leakage in aging women. And since our Wiki page is about sneezes and we have learned about the excretory system in class, I thought it would be a good review to go over how urine is created and how urinary bladder operates.

Women of all ages have bladder control problems. You may think bladder control problems are something that happens only to old women.  However, the truth is that women of all ages have this problem. The problem of urine leakage is also called incontinence. Men leak urine too, but it’s more common in women.

  • Many women leak urine when they exercise, laugh hard, cough, or sneeze.

  • Often women leak urine when they are pregnant or after they have given birth.

  • Women who have stopped having their periods-menopause-often report bladder control problems.

  • Female athletes of all ages sometimes have urine leakage during strenuous sports activities.

The picture below shows some common types of incontinence.

Urine leakage is more common in older women, but that doesn’t mean it is solely due to the aging. Incontinence is not a disease, but it may be a sign that something is wrong. It’s a medical problem.

How does the bladder work?

Parts of the bladder control system:

The bladder is a part of the excretory system. The bladder is a balloon-shaped organ that stores and releases urine. It gets urine from the kidney, in which the filtration to create urine occurs in the renal cortex and renal medulla. Proximal convoluted tubule in renal cortex receives initial filtrate, and it goes into the loop of Henle, which increases the osmolarity due to water moving out. In the ascending limb of the nephron, water stays in the tube, but solvents go out of the tube, decreasing the osmolarity inside the tube. The distal convoluted tubule reabsorbs the filtrate, but doesn’t do anything with water. Then, it leads to collecting ducts. All of these processes happen between the renal cortex and renal medulla. Next, ureters, which are made of smooth muscles (two layers of circular and longitudinal) undergo peristalsis, acting as a transport system connecting the kidney to the urinary bladder. The urinary bladder sits on the pelvis. The bladder is supported and held in place by pelvic muscles. The bladder itself is a muscle. The tube that drains your urinary bladder is called the urethra. Ring-like muscles called sphincters help keep the urethra closed so urine doesn’t leak from the bladder before you’re ready to release it.

Parts of the bladder control system:

Several body systems must work together to control the bladder.

  • Pelvic floor muscles hold the bladder in place.

  • Sphincter muscles keep the urethra closed.

  • The bladder muscle relaxes when it fills with urine and squeezes when it’s time to urinate.

  • Nerves carry signals from the bladder to let the brain know when the bladder is full.

  • Nerves also carry signals from the brain to tell the bladder when it’s time to urinate.

  • Hormones help keep the lining of the bladder and urethra healthy.

Bladder control problems can start when any one of these features is not working properly. Because the bladder is supported by pelvic muscles, a sneeze causes those muscles to contract. This results in both a sneeze happening and the bladder to leak as the pelvic muscles contract causing the bladder to contract and urine to leak out of the bladder through sphincters.



It’s not a good time to sneeze!

How to Stop Sneezing

Sometimes, there are moments when you don’t want to sneeze, right? Like when you are in a classroom that is very quiet, or when you are in a big lecture hall taking a test. Here are some tips that will help you stop sneezing. However, you have to keep in mind that you shouldn’t hold back a sneeze; those tips are for when you can your sneeze coming up, not for holding it in!

Uncontrollable sneezes that come up suddenly cannot be stopped. However, if you can feel the sneeze coming up then the following techniques can help you as they will force you to focus on a physical condition other than the sneeze:

  • When you feel the first tingle of the sneeze, pinch the tip of your nose.

  • Using the tip of your tongue, tickle the roof of your mouth. It takes about 10 seconds for the sneeze to dissipate.

  • Tickling the ear lobe will help.

  • Concentrate on the space between the eyebrows. Imagine that something is touching it until the urge to sneeze goes away.

  • Press the center of the upper lip with your finger.

The tips provided above should be used to alter your focus to other physical activities to avoid another sneeze if you can feel it coming up. However, those shouldn’t be used to hold back a sneeze because it can harm you and can be dangerous. Holding a sneeze can damage the sinus along with the inner ear and the brain cells.

The act of sneezing itself could be considered as a violent act. The air and particles are expelled from the mouth at a speed of about 160Km per hour. Suppressing the velocity of the sneeze can cause a sudden shock on the muscles. Some of these harmful effects can include:

  • A bleeding nose or a breakage of the nasal cartilage.

  • A burst eardrum leading to hearing loss.

  • Dizziness.

  • More seriously, internal damage can be caused inside the head due to trying to prevent the expulsion of air.

Here is an example of how your sinuses can be effected

So don’t try to stop sneezing. Just let it out, but remember, cover your mouth with a handkerchief or with your sleeves!



Sneezes Can be Strenuous!

Sneezing can be beneficial when it comes to the sneezer. As part of the body’s first line of defense, sneezes protect your body from the external irritants since the respiratory tract is exposed to the outside environment. Physical barriers such as the skin an mucus membranes protect from this. However there are some drawbacks to sneezing. Chronic sneezing can lead to irritations in the respiratory tract and some discomfort.

In one case study, as reported in the Journal of Emergency Medicine, a 51 year-old man was developing an aortic dissection that was brought on by a sneeze. An aortic dissection is where there is a tear in the aorta and blood flowing through causes the tear to continue opening further. When you sneeze, the pressure in your thoracic cavity raises in preparation to expel air up to 100 mph. As a result, the 51 year-old complained of severe chest pain after sneezing. Other factors such as hypertension and age may have caused the development of this aortic dissection, but sneezes can still be pretty strenuous on your body.

Aortic Dissection

Sneezing is a symptom of allergies, colds, the flu and other diseases. Some people sneeze when they are exposed to bright light and individuals with this possibly inherited condition are called “photic sneezers.” The medical name is, “Photic sneeze reflex.” The nick name for this condition is called ACHOO, which stands for Autosomal Dominant Compelling Helio-Ophthalmic Outburst syndrome. It is a genetically inherited condition present from birth causing sufferers to sneeze in the presence of bright light. Its cause has been debated since the time of Aristotle, but the scientific consensus seems to be that a defect in the interaction between the optic nerve fibers and trigeminal nerve causes bright light in the eyes to trick the brain into believing that the nose is blocked and a sneeze is necessary. About 17% to 35% of humans suffer from this condition.

Another odd and not fully understood sneeze-related phenomenon is snatiation, which is the condition of sneezing while on a full stomach, after an unusually large meal. This is also passed genetically as an autosomal dominant trait.

Arm pain

Arm pain after sneezing can be the result of a compressed or pinched nerve. Also, a sudden movement of the neck while sneezing may lead to pain in the arm. A dislocated vertebra or other spinal problems may also be the reasons behind arm pain after sneezing.
Weakness of the spine, compression of a spinal nerve, or neck and back injuries are some of the other causes of arm pain after sneezing. Rather, the weakness in the bones of the neck and back, manifests itself during involuntary reflexes like sneezing. It won’t be wrong to say that symptoms of neck and back problems become more evident during actions like sneezing or coughing.

Back-Related Injuries

A strenuous coughing or sneezing attack can leave you with back spasms and upper or lower back pain and can cause an injury. Vigorous sneezing not only wracks your entire body, but the pressure can be so intense it may actually cause a weakened spinal disc to rupture. Sneezing aggravates already existing musculoskeletal strain and might increase back pain that resulted from a previous injury. Sneezing can cause someone to sprain a ligament in the lower back.

Ribs, Nerves and Pulled Muscles

A sneeze can pull the intercostals muscle, which is a small muscle between the ribs, and this can be extremely painful. Also, the power of a sneeze can even cause the position of the joint where the rib meets the spine to become misaligned. Sneezing can trigger muscle spasm and aggravate pinched nerves, both of which may result in pain and discomfort.


People suffering from osteoporosis – a disease that causes the loss of bone density, resulting in thinning of bone tissue and greater susceptibility to broken bones – can sustain injury from falls, from lifting heavy objects, and from the force of sneezing. Forceful sneezing is particularly dangerous for the elderly and has been known to result in painful vertebral compression fractures, which is when the bones of the spine become broken due to trauma.

In Chesapeake, Virginia, 12-year-old Lauren Johnson sneezes more than 12,000 times a day – about 16 times each minute. She hasn’t been able to attend school, because it is too disruptive to class, and she has visited six different doctors and a hypnotherapist since the attacks began two weeks ago. However, they all couldn’t find a clear diagnosis for it. A neurologist assumes a rare condition called irretractable psychogenic disorder, which could be triggered by stress. There are less than 40 cases that were documented worldwide. An allergist believes that the condition that Lauren has, also rare, is called machine-gun sneezing triggered by allergies, sinus problems, or growths in the nasal passage. Although her condition remains unknown, thankfully, Lauren does get some relief at night as the sneezing stops during deep sleep.











Why We Say Bless You

The idea of saying bless you after a sneeze started during the bubonic plague epidemic of the sixth century, when Pope Gregory the Great would say, “May God bless you,” to those who would sneeze.  His intentions were to wish Gods blessing onto those who sneezed because it was a sign they had the plaque.  At that time, having the plaque was almost a sure sign of death because of the limited knowledge of health and disease.  Saying may God bless you for a sneeze was the Popes way in hoping that the person who sneezed wouldn’t die.

Saying bless you, or something similar to it, also came from people’s belief that when you sneezed your soul leaves your body. So, to stop the devil from capturing your freed soul, you say bless you.  It is also believed that when you sneeze your heart stops, which we know actually doesn’t, and saying bless you is a way to welcome a person back to life. When you sneeze, there is changing pressure gradients in your chest, which also changes your blood flow. Sneezing changes your blood momentarily, but it does not stop your heart.

Some other traditional responses to a sneeze include:

  • French: “a tes/vous souhaits”………………….to your wishes

  • German: “Gesundheit”……………………………to your health

  • Italian: “Salute!” …………………………………..to your health




Tracing a Sneeze

Where does a sneeze start? It all starts with a foreign particle that enters and irritates the nasal mucosal lining. This can include dust, pollen, bacteria and even pepper. Your body’s reaction to this foreign particle is a sneeze. The respiratory, nervous and muscular system all work together to expel foreign particles out of your nose. So now a simple sneeze is not so simple. The following steps are the basics of a sneeze that will be further explained throughout the blog:

Respiratory System

  1. Starting with the respiratory system, a sneeze starts when a person breathes in a foreign particle. (Most people breathe through their nose to help trap these particles and bacteria).

  2. The nose is lined with hair like projections called “cilia” to help trap bacteria and dust particles. Cilia protect bacteria from further traveling down the respiratory system into the lungs. If many cold viruses and other particles do manage to travel down into the lungs, pneumonia can develop and cause other respiratory problems.

  3. Other shelf-life projections in the nose called turbinates trap and collect foreign particles. Turbinates are bony projections inside the breathing passage on each side of your nose.

    1. People have three turbinates on each side: inferior, middle, and superior.

    2. The inferior turbinate is the largest of the three; the superior turbinate is the smallest.

    3. Turbinates main function is to prepare the air being breathed in. This includes filtering and trapping foreign particles, warming cold air, and humidifying air to prevent the drying of the bronchial tubes.

    4. A nasal mucosal lining lines the turbinates and this is where particles get trapped. This then triggers a reflex arc.


Nervous System (see physics of sneezing for more detail)

  1. Nerves in the nasal mucosal lining act as the receptor and eyes, nose, lungs, diaphragm and chest muscles act as the effector.

  2. Afferent nerves in the nasal passage carry signals to the “sneeze center” to trigger a reaction. The sneeze center is also known as the medulla which is located in the hindbrain. The medulla also controls reflexes such as breathing, vomiting, and digesting. The Trigeminal Nerve is responsible for this.

  3. Efferent nerves or motor nerves signal the muscles in the eyes, nose, and chest to contract.

Muscular System/Respiratory System

  1. The muscles involved in a sneeze include the eye, abdominal, and chest muscles. The diaphragm and vocal cords are also involved.

  2. The muscles in your eyes contract causing eyes to shut automatically.

  3. The diaphragm and abdominal muscles work together to force air out of the lungs, nose and mouth at a speed of 100 mph.

  4. The diaphragm moves down, lowering pressure in the chest cavity. The lowered pressure causes air to be pulled in to fill the lungs to equalize pressure. Abdominal muscles also aid in breathing.

  5. Abdominal muscles such as the intercostals, contract increasing space in the chest.

  6. As air is filled in the lungs, the abdominal and intercostals contract again forcing air back out at a high speed.

     7. The air forces mucus and irritant particles out of the nose.

So Where do these particles end up now? Well, hopefully it won’t be on a fellow classmate, colleague, or neighbor. Mucus is a perfect growing medium for many kinds of bacteria, such as Streptococcus pneumoniae that can cause sinusitis. So please cover up when you cough and sneeze!

-The Sneezeweeze team

Here is a simple and short video on how sneezing occurs.


All images taken from gooogle images

Nasal anatomy – the turbinates. (2005, April 21). Retrieved from http://www.obstructednose.com /nasal_anatomy_turbinates.html

Squires, S. (2006). Anatomy of a sneeze. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/health/interactives /cold/

What is a sneeze. (2009). Retrieved from http://www.weirdfacts.com/facts/3253-sneeze-facts.html

Wilson, T. (2012). The science of sneezing. Retrieved from http://dsc.discovery.com/tv/time-warp/articles/sneezing.html