Why do we sneeze?

health May 30, 2021
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Sneezing or sternutation is one of the protective reflexes of our body. It is a defense mechanism of our body to protect against a foreign body.

Historically, the Greeks believed that sneezing was a gift from the gods and it might be one of the reasons why the phrase “God Bless you" came into being,

The function of sneezing is to expel air containing foreign particles or irritants and thus cleanse the nasal cavity. It protects our body by clearing off the nose from bacteria and viruses and has become an important part of the immune process. It is an involuntary reflex action of sneeze center of the brain.

When the nasal mucosa of the nose is irritated by foreign particles, the trapped particles such as pollen and dust containing bacteria, virus, are expelled uncontrollably from the lungs through the nose and mouth in the form of a sneeze or sternutation.

Some people have stretches of sneezing, 10 to 20 sneezes in a row due to neurologic reflex. It usually depends on the level of irritation in the nose.

What Causes Sneezing?

Irritants such as pollen or mold and dust, pungent smells, spicy foods, strong emotions, congested nose, drugs, exposure to the scorching sun, exposure to cold weather, excessive sweating due to exercise or sun, viral infection, a full stomach and pregnancy may cause sneezing.
Common cold and Respiratory tract infections also cause sneezing.

Sneezing cannot occur during sleep due to REM atonia (paralyzed or extremely relaxed state of skeletal muscles in rapid eye movement sleep -- REM sleep).

During sneezing, chest muscles compress  lungs, throat closes tightly, and  then the air is send out  through nose at speed nearly up to 100 mph.

Consequences of sneezing

Sneezing can aggravate neck or back discomfort. During driving, it may lead to accidents as drivers turn their head away to sneeze for a split second.

Sometimes, it may be embarrassing for persons who have incontinence, because part of the pressure generated during a sneeze is transmitted to the bladder, causing involuntary urination.

Remedies for Sneezing:

To prevent sneezing, allergies should be treated in a good way.

To treat allergies, antihistamine tablets or pills should be taken.

To clear the sinuses, which trigger a sneeze, glucocorticosteroid nasal sprays are to be used.

Decongestants are advised to take over a short period, not more than three days, to relieve a stuffy nose and sinus pressure.

Immunotherapy is another remedy to treat sneezing. Immunotherapy, or allergy shots decrease immune response to particular allergens over time.

Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) is a type of immunotherapy that involves placing a tablet containing a mixture of several allergens under the tongue. It works like allergy shots but without an injection.

Vitamin C is an antihistamine and increasing its intake will boost the immune system.

Home Remedies

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Ginger: If taken along with jaggery or honey will reduce sneezing and a runny nose.

Black pepper powder: A concoction prepared by simmering ½ tsp dried ginger powder with ½ tsp black pepper powder will give immediate relief. Amazing benefits when used along with tamarind.

Fennel Seeds: These are packed with antibiotic, antiseptic and antihistamine properties. When a handful of dry roasted seeds are taken along with ginger sneezes will stop.

Eucalyptus Oil: One of the best home remedies for sneezing and cold caused due to congested nose or allergy due to dust. Few drops of pure eucalyptus oil is added to a handkerchief and inhaled to clear the nasal passage.

Fenugreek Seeds: have innate antihistaminic, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties which help in preventing sneezing caused due to sinusitis.

Petroleum Jelly: Applying a little petroleum jelly with clean hands inside the nasal passages will moisturize the dried passages and prevent sneezing.

Chamomile tea: Chamomile has antihistamine effects and by drinking a cup of chamomile tea daily, will reduce the total amount of histamine in the body and help prevent sneezing.

Never a sneeze should be tried to stop because sometimes, it may lead to injuries, such as broken blood vessels in the eyes, weakened blood vessels in the brain, ruptured ear drums or problems with the diaphragm.


A. Sandhya

M.Sc Zoology

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