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A sneeze (or sternutation) is a semi-autonomous, convulsive expulsion of air from the lungs.

Sneezing occurs when a particle (or sufficient particles) passes through the nasal hairs and reaches the nasal mucosa. This triggers the production of histamines, which reach the nerve cells in the nose, which then send a signal to the brain to initiate the sneeze, which relates the initial signal and creates a large opening of the nasal cavity, resulting in a powerful release of air and bioparticles. The reason behind the powerful nature of a sneeze is its involvement of not simply the nose and mouth, but numerous organs of the upper body - it is a reflectory response that involves the muscles of the face, throat, and chest. In fact, recent scientific studies carried out by numerous highly reputable universities seem to suggest[citation needed] that it is common for the human heart to skip a beat during a sneeze.

Sneezes are capable of spreading disease through the potentially infectious aerosol droplets that they can expel, which generally range from 0.5 to 5 µm in diameter. About 40,000 such droplets can be produced by a single sneeze.[1] The speed of this release has been the source of much speculation, with the most conservative estimates placing it around 150 kilometers/hour (42 meters/second) or roughly 95 mph (135 feet/second), and the highest estimates -such as the JFK Health World Museum in Barrington, Illinois- which propose a speed as fast as 85% of the speed of sound, corresponding to approximately 1045 kilometers per hour (290 meters/second) or roughly 650 mph (950 feet/second).

In certain individuals, sneezing can also be triggered by sudden exposure to bright light, particularly that of the Sun, as well the customary irritation of the mucosa – a response known as the photic sneeze reflex.

A somewhat unusual alternative trigger of uncontrollable bursts of sneezing in particular individuals is the fullness of the stomach immediately after a large meal. This is known as snatiation and is regarded a medical disorder passed along genetically as an autosomal dominant trait.

In recent years, studies have shown that stifling or holding back sneezes can cause damage to the sinuses as well as the inner ear and brain cells. This is due to the back-flow of the significant air pressure of a sneeze, results of which could be very painful. Possible consequences include tinnitus, reduced high-frequency hearing, and in extreme cases, rupturing of the ear drum. A safer way to stifle a sneeze is to exhale deeply the moment you sense a sneeze is about to happen, and hold your breath for a few moments with empty lungs. With no air to expel, your body will be unable to sneeze, and the urge to sneeze will quickly pass with no sneeze.



Some common English onomatopoeias for the sneeze sound are "achoo", "atchoo", "achew", and "atisshoo", with the first syllable corresponding to the sudden intake of air, and the second to the sound of the sneeze.

A similar linguistic approach has been taken with several other languages; in French, the sound "Atchoum!" is used; in German "Hatschie!"; in Polish, "Apsik!"; in Turkish, "Hapşu!"; in Spanish "Achís!"; in Portuguese, "Atchim!"; and in Japanese, "Hakushon!". In Cypriot Greek, the word is "Apshoo!", incidentally also the name of a village, which is the cause of much mirth.

Beliefs and Cultural Aspects

In Hellenistic cultures of Classical Antiquity, sneezes were believed to be prophetic signs from the gods. In 410 BC, for instance, the Athenian general Xenophon gave a dramatic oration exhorting his fellow soldiers to follow him to liberty or to death against the Persians. He spoke for an hour motivating his army and assuring them of a safe return to Athens until a soldier underscored his conclusion with a sneeze. Thinking that this sneeze was a favorable sign from the gods, the soldiers bowed before Xenophon and followed his command. Another divine moment of sneezing for the Greeks occurs in the story of Odysseus. When Odysseus returns home disguised as a beggar and talks with his waiting wife Penelope, she says to Odysseus, not knowing to whom she speaks, that "[her husband] will return safely to challenge her suitors"". At that moment, their son sneezes loudly and Penelope laughs with joy, reassured that it is a sign from the gods.

In Europe, principally in the Middle Ages, it was believed that one's life was in fact tied to one's breath - a belief reflected in the word "expire" (originally meaning "to exhale") eventually gaining the additional meaning of "to come to an end" or "to die". This connection, coupled with the unusual amount of breath expelled from the body during a sneeze, had likely[citation needed] led people to believe that sneezing could easily be fatal, which could thus explain the "God Bless you" response.

In certain parts of Eastern Asia, particularly in Japanese culture, a sneeze without an obvious cause was generally perceived as a sign that someone was talking about the sneezer at that very moment. In China and Japan, for instance, there is a superstition that if you talk behind someone's back, the person in question will sneeze; as such, the sneezer can tell if something good is being said (one sneeze), something bad is being said (two sneezes in a row), or if this is a sign that they are about to catch a cold (multiple sneezes).

In Indian culture, especially in northern parts of India, it has been a common superstition that a sneeze taking place before the start of any work was a sign of impending bad interruption. It was thus customary to pause in order to drink water or break any work rhythm before resuming the job at hand in order to prevent any misfortune from occurring.

The practice among certain Islamic cultures, in turn, has largely been based on various Prophetic traditions and the teachings of Muhammed. An example of this is Al-Bukhaari's narrations from Abu Hurayrah that the Islamic prophet once said:
When one of you sneezes, let him say, "Al-hamdu-Lillah" (Praise be to Allah), and let his brother or companion say to him, "Yarhamuk Allah" (May Allah have mercy on you). If he says, "Yarhamuk-Allah", then let [the sneezer] say, "Yahdeekum Allah wa yuslihu baalakum" (May Allah guide you and rectify your condition).

Traditional Responses to a Sneeze

In English-speaking countries, a common response to a sneeze by those around it is "God bless you", or more commonly just "Bless you". The origins and purpose of this tradition are unknown, and several competing explanations have been proposed over time, with the majority focusing on the idea of preventing the soul from departing one's body, or as an effort to prevent possible death due to a lethal disease. Today, it is said mostly in the spirit of good manners.

  • In various other cultures, words referencing health or good health are used instead of "Bless you".
  • In German, Gesundheit ([to your] "Health") is occasionally said after a sneeze.
  • In Dutch, one usually says Gezondheid (literally translated as "health") or Proost (which means "cheers", see below).
  • In French, after the first sneeze, one says à tes souhaits which means "to your desires". If the same person sneezes again, the second response is à tes amours, which means "to your loves."
  • In Italian, one says Salute, which means "[to your] health".
  • In Spanish, one says Salud, which means "[to your] health", or Jesús.
  • In European Portuguese one says said Santinho, which means "Little Saint", while in Brazilian Portuguese, one says Saúde, which means "[to your] health".
  • In Finnish, Terveydeksi, which also means "[to your] health"
  • In Norway, Sweden and Denmark, one says Prosit, Latin for "may it advantage (you)".[2]
  • In Turkish, a sneezer is always told to Çok Yaşa, i.e. "Live Long", which in turn receives a response of either Sen De Gör ("[and I hope that] you see it") or Hep Beraber ("all together"). This is to indicate the sneezer's wish that the person wishing them a long life also has a long life so they can "live long" "all together". For more polite circles, one might say Güzel Yaşayın, i.e. "[May You] Live Beautifully", which may be countered with a Siz de Görün ("[And may You] witness it").
  • In Romanian, one says Sănătate ("health") or Noroc ("Luck").
  • In Russian, the appropriate response is будь здоров(а) which means "be healthy." For sneezer it is polite to reply спасибо meaning "thank you."
  • In Armenian, one says առողջություն (aroghjootyoon).
  • In Azeri, sneezing is usually followed by the responce Sağlam ol, which means "be healthy"
  • In Hebrew, one says לבריאות (labri'ut/livri'ut), meaning "for (the) health".
  • In Arabic, (Levantine Arabic) the response is صَحة (Sahha), which has probably evolved from صِحة (Sihha) meaning "health". Also, one may say نشوة (Nashweh) which means "ecstasy". The response is either thank you شكرا (Shukran) or تسلم (Tislam/Taslam) which means "may you be kept safe".
  • In Vietnamese language, the response is traditionally Sống lâu, i.e. "(Be) 100 years old" which, like "Bless You", an abbreviation of "Wish you a long life of a hundred years."
  • In Japan, a sneezer might apologize for the outburst, by saying すみません (Sumimasen) or 失礼しました (Shitsurei shimashita), meaning "excuse me".
  • In Somali, one says Jir, which means "Live Long".
  • In Tamil language, one says Nooru aayisu for the first time, which means "(Have a life of) 100 years", for the second time it would be Theerga-aayisu which means "(Have) a Long life" and for the third time it would be Poorna-aayisu which means "(Have) a healthy long life".

See also

  • Photic sneeze reflex
  • Snatiation
  • Sneezing fetishism


  1. ^ Cole EC, Cook CE. Characterization of infectious aerosols in health care facilities: an aid to effective engineering controls and preventive strategies. Am J Infect Control. 1998 Aug;26(4):453-64. Sneezing can transmit many diseases PMID 9721404
  2. ^ prosit


  • Ancient Sneezing: A Gift from the Gods - Elaine Fantham, Professor of Classics at Princeton on NPR Radio.
  • why do my eyes close every time I sneeze? M.G., Sherborn The Boston Globe

Further reading

  • Cecil Adams (1987). "If you hold your eyelids open while sneezing, will your eyes pop out?". The Straight Dope.
  • Barbara Mikkelson (2001). "Bless You!" Urban Legends Reference Pages.
  • Tom Wilson, M.D. (1997) "Why do we sneeze when we look at the sun?" MadSci Network.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Sneeze". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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