Left banner image adapted from amyloidosis gross node, by Ed Uthman MD, Creative Commons license


A sneeze is very similar to a cough - the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract become irritated, the muscles tense, and air is blasted out through the mouth, or nose in the case of a sneeze. The irritations that cause a sneeze happen higher in the respiratory system, though, basically in the nose.

The abdominal and chest muscles and diaphragm (the muscle under the lungs that forces air out of them) all squeeze at the same time to try to flush the irritation out with air. And then the irritation makes snot that further irritates the inside of the nose, and you sneeze again…and on and on. This is how the cycle goes until the irritation is gone.

Gross fact: A sneeze can force particles to exit your nose at 100 mph

The eyelid muscles are also controlled by the reflex, causing your eyes to close - unless of course you hold them open. Depsite popular myth that keeping your eyes open while you sneeze will pop your eyeballs out, the Mythbusters addressed this several years ago, as shown in this video. Closing the eyes probably is more likely to protect them from what's flying out the nose in regards to pathogens. Also, your heart doesn't stop when you sneeze either.

And now check out this video of a sneeze traveling 17 feet

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