• Question: Why do we sneeze?

    Asked by mazzy to Enda, Jean on 23 Nov 2012.
    • Photo: Jean Bourke

      Jean Bourke answered on 23 Nov 2012:

      We sneeze to get stuff out of our noses. If your body detects something in your nose that could do you harm or cause you difficultly breathing it will try and get rid of it. To do so, your body shoots air out at high speeds and this forces the offending object out (as well any snot that happens to be there). Sneezing will shoot particles many metres.

      You have to be careful when sneezing as it can spread disease. It is best to sneeze into your elbow joint as if you sneeze into your hand you can then spread disease by touching stuff. You can also sneeze into a tissue and so long as you dispose of the tissue immediately that is fine. Remember to disinfect your hands after you catch a sneeze. Even if you’re not sick you many be carrying a virus or bacterium that could make others sick.

      Some people sneeze when they suddenly see a bright light and others sneeze when their stomach is full. These are just little human oddities.

      Remember not to let your soul escape when you sneeze 😉

    • Photo: Enda O'Connell

      Enda O'Connell answered on 23 Nov 2012:

      Hi Mazzy,

      Good chatting to you the other day – you asked some good questions!

      Normally we sneeze to get rid of foreign particles that have entered our nasal passages. Sneezing is an involuntary reaction, caused by an irritant getting past our nose hairs to our nasal mucosa, causing a chemical reaction which in turn causes a signal to be sent to our brain to produce a sneeze. Once this signal is sent it is very difficult to stop a sneeze, and probably not a good idea, as the foreign particle still remains in place and you can actually damage the tube which runs from your nose to your ear.

      Some people can sneeze if they are suddenly exposed to bright light or have a particularly full stomach and of course you may sneeze a lot if you have a cold. The virus which causes your cold (e.g. a Rhinovirus – but there are many) stimulates the sneeze to help it spread to other victims. A sneeze can contain 40,000 virus-containing droplets moving at 200 miles an hour so if you are in a crowded area, you can infect a lot of people quickly. That is why you should always sneeze into a tissue, or even your sleeve if you don’t have one.