1. Sneezing, or sternutation, is an involuntary action. What starts as a tickle is transformed into a strong burst of air being pushed through the mouth and nose.
What a Workout
2. Sneezing gives many parts of the body a workout. When something irritates the nose or throat, it might cause a little tickle in the nose. The nose then sends a message to the brain. The sneeze center in the brain then takes over. It sends a message to a group of muscles that work together to create a sneeze.
3. First, the abdomen gets involved. The abdominal muscles receive the message from the brain and pass it on to the chest muscles. From there the message is passed to the diaphragm, a muscle behind the lungs. Then the message travels to the muscles that control the vocal chords and then on to the muscles in the back of the throat. All of the teamwork among these muscles results in a powerful sneeze. So powerful, in fact, that the sneeze can cause particles to shoot from the nose at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour.
4. Of course, anyone who has ever sneezed knows there is another set of muscles involved: the eyelid muscles. Whenever people sneeze, their eyes close.
What Causes the Commotion?
5. A sneeze starts with a tickle, but what causes the tickle? All kinds of things can irritate the nose. Viruses from colds and flu are common causes of nose tickles. The viruses cause the membranes in the nose and throat to become inflamed and irritated. That is the grossest cause of a sneeze.
Allergies are another common cause of sneezing. Small particles of pollen from plants and trees float in the air. The particles can cause anyone to sneeze, but people with allergies to some types of plant life are especially sensitive. The same is true of people who are allergic to animal dander. Just being in the presence of the cats and dogs can cause a string of sneezing.
There are also plenty of sneeze starters that require no allergy or virus. For example, dust, pepper, or a cloud of talcum powder can cause any nose to send out the sneeze signal. Even cold air can cause the nose to run, which will set off the sneeze chain. This usually produces the funniest-sounding sneezes.
Some sneezers can blame it on their parents. Photic sneezers, people who sneeze when in bright light, inherit this trait from their parents. People who suffer from this genetic form of sneezing need to avoid spending much time out in the sunshine. Even a strong, human-made light can create a fit of sneezes. Not being able to stay outside for long would be very boring.
Scientists call this trait Autosomal Dominant Compelling Helio-Ophthalmic Outburst Syndrome. They realize this name is a mouthful and a half, so to make it easier for everyone they have nicknamed it ACHOO Syndrome.
Oh No, It’s Stuck
Have you ever felt like you needed to sneeze, but no sneeze came? This happens to many people. A person feels the tickle in the nose, his or her eyes begin to water, and the urge to sneeze is strong. However, the sneeze message seems to get lost somewhere along the route and no sneeze comes. This is a frustrating feeling, but one with a simple solution. The person need only to glance into a bright light (never look directly at the Sun) to get the ball rolling. This will loosen the sneeze and set it free. This usually works for everyone, not just photic sneezers.