True or False: Your Heart Stops Beating When You Sneeze (and Other Common Beliefs About Sneezing)

mythbuster graphic Sneezing is your nose’s involuntary response to a nasal irritation. Traditions abound concerning sneezing, and many are rooted in cultural beliefs about the power of a sneeze. “God bless you,” for example, may have originated with the belief that your soul left your body when you sneezed and that evil spirits could enter unless a blessing was bestowed upon you. Or, that your heart stopped momentarily during a sneeze, essentially killing you for an instant, so you needed to be blessed. One rational explanation for the exaggerated attention paid toward sneezing comes from the 6th century, when the Black Plague killed half the population of Europe. Sneezing was a symptom of the disease and was viewed as a sign of impeding death. People thus began to say “bless you” in hopes that the sneezer would not succumb to the infection, or, some say, as a final blessing.Because sneezing is a common phenomenon and rarely harmful, little research has been conducted to demystify the sneezing experience. However, observational evidence, anecdotes, and a few studies provide insight into some common beliefs about sneezing.

Your Heart Stops Beating When You Sneeze

Although it may seem that your heart takes a break during a sneeze, this is actually not the case. When you first inhale before sneezing, the pressure in your chest increases. Then, as you exhale forcefully during the sneeze the pressure drops. Alterations in blood flow to your heart produced by these pressure changes can affect the heart rate. However, the electrical activity in the heart marches on unimpeded–you remain very much alive throughout your sneeze!

It Is Impossible to Keep Your Eyes Open During a Sneeze

Because most people’s natural reflex is to close their eyes when they sneeze, it is a common belief that blinking while sneezing is necessary. In fact, the nerves that go to your eyes and nose are closely connected, and stimulating one could conceivably generate a response in the other. However, there is no real reason that your eyes must be shut when you are sneezing, and some people are actually capable of keeping their eyes open during a sneeze.

If You Do Keep Your Eyes Open During a Sneeze, They Will Pop Out of Your Head

Not true. The few people who can naturally keep their eyes open while sneezing manage to keep them firmly inside their head. Also, holding your eyes open with your fingers when you sneeze has not been reported to cause serious eye problems. Most importantly, there is no physical mechanism involved in a sneeze that could make your eyes pop out. While blood pressure behind the eyes may increase slightly during a sneeze, this small, brief force is nowhere near enough to dislodge them from their boney sockets. This is a good thing, since your eyelids would probably be incapable of holding your eyeballs in if a sneeze was actually strong enough to dislodge them.

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