Whether you have a cold, are allergic to something or simply stepped out into the bright sunshine, chances are you’ve sneezed sometime recently. It’s time to get the lowdown on what’s up with these nose explosions!

Sneezing — also called “sternutation” — is your body’s natural, reflexive way of getting rid of something irritating inside your nose. All sorts of things, such as dust, cold air and pepper, can irritate the inside of your nose and trigger a sneeze.

Sometimes you sneeze when you catch a cold or the flu. When germs and viruses make a home inside your nose, they can cause swelling and irritation. Likewise, allergies to animal dander, pet hair or pollen from plants can cause the same sort of reactions within your nose.

When the inside of your nose becomes irritated, special nerves send a message to your brain. Your brain then sends a message to all the parts of your body that must work together successfully to cause you to sneeze.

Although your body does it automatically, sneezing actually involves complex coordination of several different parts of the body. Your belly muscles, chest muscles, diaphragm (the “breathing” muscle underneath your lungs), vocal cords, throat muscles and even your eyelids must all work together perfectly to create a sneeze.

Your eyelids? Yes! Did you realize that you always close your eyes when you sneeze? And it’s a good thing, too. You probably don’t want to see what flies out of your nose and mouth during a sneeze.

When we say “fly,” we mean fly. Sneezing can send those irritating particles flying out of your nose at 100 miles per hour. Scientists estimate that one sneeze can send up to 100,000 germs into the air.

So when your parents and teachers tell you to use a tissue or sneeze into your inner elbow, they know what they’re talking about. Sneezing is one way that cold germs and flu viruses are spread so easily.

Have you ever noticed someone who sneezes — sometimes multiple times — when stepping out into bright sunshine? Their nose isn’t necessarily irritated, and they’re probably not allergic to the sun. Instead, they’re a photic sneezer.

Photic means “light,” and photic sneezers sneeze when exposed to bright light. It’s a genetic trait, which means if you’re a photic sneezer, you inherited it from your parents.

No one really knows why photic sneezing occurs, but experts believe the condition affects 18 to 35 percent of the population.

Photic sneezing actually has a complicated scientific name: Autosomal Dominant Compelling Helio-Ophthalmic Outburst Syndrome. However, most scientists shorten this long name and refer to the condition as “ACHOO Syndrome”!

When you sneeze, you will probably hear other people say something like “God bless you!” or “Gesundheit!” (the German word for “health”). Experts believe that these sayings developed in response to ancient superstitions that held that sneezing was related to evil spirits.

There was also an ancient myth that claimed that your heart stopped briefly during a sneeze, but that’s not true!

 

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    • Wasn’t that baby panda super cute, Kerrick Elementary EBD/2nd grade classrooms? Thank you for leaving us this great comment and for visiting Wonderopolis each day! We really appreciate Wonder Friends like you! :-)

    • We look forward to learning together with you all, Mrs. Caplin’s Class! We know you will put those iPods to good use and do LOTS of WONDERing with them! :-)

  1. We love your website. The baby panda was so adorable and the sneeze photo made us cringe. Yuck! Thank you for providing us with lots of new information every day.

    • We LOVE meeting new Wonder Friends like you, Mrs. Johnson’s 4A Group! Thank you so much for visiting Wonderopolis and for letting us know how much you liked this Wonder of the Day®!

    • Hello, ziyanah student o.e.s! Thank you for visiting Wonderopolis today and for leaving us this comment! We thought the baby panda was very cute, too! :-)

    • Hi again, ziyaanh student o.e.s! The students in Mrs. Caplin’s class use their iPods to help them learn, research and WONDER! They use them right in the classroom as part of their school day! :-)

  2. Hi Wonderopolis the sneezing Panda video was great. I did not know that thousands of germs can come from one tiny sneeze. At first I did not know who was sneezing, the baby panda or the mother panda. I finally figured out it was the baby.

    Maddy M.

    • We’re so happy to hear that you learned something new from this Wonder of the Day®, Maddy! Thank you for sharing another GREAT comment with us! :-)

  3. Awwwwwww! How cute! I love pandas! Do you love pandas, Wonderopolis? Well, I guess I’m going to read about sneezing now! Thanks for the awesome Wonder of the Day!

  4. Omg, too cute! I showed it to my teacher and she started cracking up! So, I will continue on with Wonderopolis and I love it!!!! :D

    • That is GREAT news, JoJo Sam! We’re glad you love Wonderopolis and hope you’ll visit us every day! Thanks for being such a WONDERful Wonder Friend! :-)

  5. Hey Wonderopolis! :)

    How many times does an average person sneeze a year? Oh! And did you know that when you sneeze, if you think of the word “pineapple” then your sneeze will go away! It seems crazy but it is true! :)

    • Hey there, Wonder Friend Molly! Thanks for your tip on sneezing– or avoiding it! We’re going to try it next time! We bet it would depend on where you live when it comes to annual number of sneezes… we would love it if you did some WONDERing of your own! :)

  6. Hi Wonderopolis I love your website! I’m doing this for extra credit on my grade for science. Could the next wonder of the day be a funny one please? Also did you know that your brain will not allow you to sneeze with your eyes opened?

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Why do you sneeze?
  • What is photic sneezing?
  • How fast are sneezes?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

Do you have a hard time imagining how thousands of germs could be spread at 100 miles per hour with a single sneeze? Try this simple experiment to help you visualize what happens during a sneeze.

First, get some confetti. You can get confetti at a party store, or you can make your own at home.

All you need is some newspaper or scrap paper. Cut the scrap paper into tiny pieces until you have a couple hundred tiny pieces of paper to work with.

Next, you’ll need a fan. Set up your fan on a flat surface and put your pile of confetti in front of it.

This next part will get a bit messy, so make sure that you do this in an area that will allow for easy cleanup when you’re finished.

When you’re ready to simulate a sneeze, turn on the fan and watch what happens. Those flying confetti pieces you see are like the germs that fly out of your nose during a sneeze!

Do you see how many there are and how far they travel? That’s why it’s so easy to spread colds and the flu with just one sneeze!

 

Still Wondering

Explore Science NetLinks’ Germs Can Make You Sick lesson to learn more about how germs are spread, the diseases they can cause and how washing your hands can help prevent the spread of germs.

 

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allergy  cold  flu  germ  reflex  sneeze 

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