What Causes Sneezing? Sneezing 101

What Causes Sneezing? Sneezing 101

14 Aug 2018

Sneezing is a reflex reaction that usually occurs with the common cold, flu, inhaling an allergen, or, even just tickly dust irritating the inside of your nose. Either way, the point of a sneeze is to try and get whatever is bothering the inside of your nose out!

But have you ever wondered what actually causes sneezing? Let's delve into the fascinating realm of nasal reactions and explore the triggers that can turn an innocent inhale into an explosive achoo!

In this blog post, we'll dive deeper into the fascinating world of sneezing. We'll explore common sneezing triggers and even some intriguing sneezing facts you might not have known before!


You know what sneezing feels like, but what causes a sneeze?

When you take a breath, you invite more than just oxygen into your lungs. You unknowingly welcome dust particles, allergens, bacteria, and viruses floating around in the air. While most of the time, they go unnoticed, sometimes these unwelcome intruders manage to irritate the delicate lining of your nose.

Imagine the scenario: microscopic dust particles or minuscule dirt particles delicately tickling the sensitive mucus membranes in your nose and throat. These particles set off a tickling sensation that can be quite maddening. In response, your nasal passages kick into action, sending signals to your brain that something's not right, and it's time for a reflex reaction—a sneeze!

Some irritants that can cause sneezing are:

  • Hay fever triggers like pollen
  • Odors such as added fragrances or perfumes
  • Bacteria and Viruses
  • Environmental irritants like smoke and air pollution
  • Common allergens like animal dander
  • Pungent or spicy foods
  • Other irritants such as mold, dust, and dirt

So, the next time you feel that unmistakable tickle or your nose detects an intruder, know that it's your body's way of protecting you. Sneezing acts as a defense mechanism, aiming to expel irritants and bring relief to your irritated nasal passages.


Woman sneezing from dog allergies on couch

Sneezing is a phenomenon that has intrigued humans for centuries. From its peculiar sound to the surprising force it can unleash, there's more to sneezing than meets the eye. Let's uncover some fascinating facts about sneezing that will leave you amazed!

1. Speedy Sneezes: Did you know that a sneeze can travel at an astonishing speed of up to 100 miles per hour? That's faster than most cars on the highway! No wonder it feels like a sudden burst of energy.

2. Bless You! Ever wonder why people say "bless you" after a sneeze? This custom dates back to ancient times when people believed that a sneeze momentarily expelled evil spirits from the body. So, the blessing was offered as protection against any harm.

3. The Great Interruption: Sneezing can momentarily disrupt your body's functions. Your heart rate may momentarily decrease, and your eyes might even close involuntarily. It's your body's way of giving full attention to the explosive sneeze!

4. The Sneezing Chain Reaction: Sneezing can be contagious. When one person sneezes, it triggers a reflex in others, causing a chain reaction. It's not just a psychological effect; it's a natural response that spreads through the air!

5. Light Sensitivity: Have you ever noticed that some people sneeze when exposed to bright light? It's called the "photic sneeze reflex" and affects about one in four individuals. The reason behind it remains a scientific mystery, adding an element of intrigue to this peculiar sneezing phenomenon.

6. No Sneezing While Sleeping: Ever wondered why you rarely sneeze while you're fast asleep? It's because the nerves responsible for triggering a sneeze are also in a state of rest during sleep. Sneezing requires wakefulness to fully engage the reflex.

7. Temporary Stopped Heart: Sneezing can momentarily halt your heartbeat. Although it's a rare occurrence, the intense force of a powerful sneeze can cause a temporary pause in your heart's rhythm. Don't worry, though—it quickly returns to normal.

Read more: How to Help Stop Sneezing


In this blog post, we’ve fully explored what causes a sneeze. Sneezing occurs when irritants like dust, allergens, or even tickly dust disturb the delicate lining of your nose. It's your body's defense mechanism, aimed at expelling these irritants and bringing relief to your nasal passages.

But that's not all! We also uncovered some fascinating facts about sneezing that will leave you astonished. From the astonishing speed of a sneeze (up to 100 miles per hour!) to the old custom of saying "bless you" after a sneeze, there's more to sneezing than meets the eye.

Sneezing can momentarily disrupt your body's functions and even trigger a chain reaction among others. We explored the mysterious "photic sneeze reflex" and the temporary pause in heartbeat that a powerful sneeze can cause.

Remember, sneezing is a natural process that helps maintain respiratory health. Whether it accompanies a common cold, flu, allergic reactions, or other ailments, sneezing plays a crucial role in keeping our respiratory system in check.

Now armed with a deeper understanding of sneezing and armed with intriguing facts, you're better equipped to appreciate this fascinating reflex. Embrace the power of an "achoo" and let it take you on a journey of exploration into the captivating world of sneezing.

  1. American Lung Association, 2016, How Fast Is a Sneeze Versus a Cough? Cover Your Mouth Either Way!
  2. Healthline, 2020, Is it Possible to Sneeze While Sleeping?