Why Do People Sneeze?

Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

Why do people sneeze? In this lesson you will learn about this common (and sometimes comical) event, what triggers it, and even some interesting facts that you may find surprising!

Blasting Away Germs

Aaaa-choo! You've sneezed plenty of times before, as well as just about everyone you know. But why does this happen? And just what is going on during this process? You sneeze because something has gotten into your nose, triggering a response in your body to remove that foreign substance or object. When you sneeze, this is your body's way of blasting out that invader with mucus. Think about how much force comes with a sneeze and you'll understand just how effective this blast can be!

Sneezing is how your body expels foreign objects or substances from your nose.
man sneezing

The technical term for sneezing is sternutation and here's how it works: the foreign invader in your nose triggers a signal that is sent to your brain, which then triggers the action that becomes the sneeze. But this process involves a lot more than your nose; other body parts such as your abdominal muscles, throat, mouth, and even your eyelids are signaled into action. Why so many different body parts? Well, some are for the blast out your nose, but a lot of them are involved in keeping you upright during such a forceful propulsion through your face. In fact, sneezes can blast air out at a whopping 100 miles per hour! It takes a lot of coordination from your body to keep you standing during such an event.

Differences in Sneezes

You've probably noticed that not everyone sneezes the same way, including yourself. Sometimes you have just one good one, other times you sneeze a few times in a row. Some people sneeze loudly while others sneeze very quietly. It's not clear why sneezes are so different between people, but scientists believe it has to do with the individual and how their body responds to stimuli. For those who are sensitive to allergens, harmless substances that cause an allergic reaction (like pet dander and pollen), sneezing may be more common.

Others believe that multiple sneezes might be the body's way of ensuring that the substance triggering the sneeze is effectively removed. For example, the first sneeze might just loosen everything up, while the second and third move the invader to the front lines and then out the door.

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