Originally written June 29, 2019
Sneezing is a universally-recognized physical reaction in people, but what people don’t often know is what sneezing means, or what it does to the body. In fact, myths and superstitions have swirled around sneezing for almost as long as civilization has existed. Today, we’d like to go through just a few of the many, many odd beliefs about sneezing.
First, let’s talk about what a sneeze is. A sneeze is your body’s reaction to irritants in your nasal mucous membrane. When your membrane is irritated, your body expels them through a forceful, explosive expulsion of air through the nose and mouth. A sneeze attack is where you are continually sneezing, sometimes right after the other, which can mainly be attributed to allergies, irritants, or underlying conditions.
Blood pressure behind the eyes does increase slightly when you sneeze, but it’s not enough to force your eyes out of your head. The fact that you close your eyes at all when you sneeze is purely reflexive.
Your chest does contract when you sneeze, which can constrict your blood flow, but it’s not nearly enough to stop your heart.
In east Asian countries, there’s a superstition that if you sneeze, someone is talking about you. Moreover, the number of times you sneeze during your sneeze attacks is a sign as to what they’re talking about. For example, one sneeze means something good has been said, two means something bad has been said, three is a sign that someone is in love with them, and four is a sign that tragedy will befall their family.
In Polish culture, a sneeze is more than just a sign that someone is talking about you: it means your mother-in-law is talking badly about you. If they aren’t married, it means that when they are, their relationship with their mother-in-law will be a poor one.
Many cultures think sneezing sometime between noon and midnight is a sign of good luck, while others think it’s a bad sign. In other cases, some people believe if you sneeze while getting dressed, something bad will happen that day. Still others think that if you turn your head to the right when you sneeze you’ll have good luck, while turning your heard to the left will bring bad luck.
Sneezing is unusual in that there is almost a universal need to respond when someone does so. But why do people say “God bless you” (or a variation thereof) when you sneeze? Well, there a few possible origins. One is that Pope Gregory the Great started doing so during the Plague of Justinian, in the hopes that people wouldn’t die after sneezing. There is also the school of thought that people might expel their souls from their body when they sneezed, and this was a way of keeping the devil from taking it. And then there are those who thought the heart would stop when you sneezed and saying “God bless you” would keep you from dying.
To treat your sneeze attack, you have to treat it at the source. For allergies, that could mean using antihistamines or being more pointed with cleaning anything that could be in contact with allergens. Nasal sprays and nasal irrigation could also clear your nasal cavities if your sneezing is related to irritation. However, persistent sneezing should be seen by a physician for a more accurate diagnosis.
While sneezing might not be a sign of luck or being talked about, it could be a sign of a cold, allergy, or other condition one of CEENTA’s ENT doctors would be happy to treat. If you need an appointment to treat your sneeze attacks, don’t hesitate to make one today.
This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your doctor. If you need an appointment with an ENT doctor in one of our North or South Carolina locations, you can schedule appointment online or through myCEENTAchart.
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