Sneezing is a reflex action by the body to get rid of any unwanted particles such as dust and chemicals. Do you feel your heart jump when you sneeze? Did your heart skip a beat, or did it slow down? Does your heart stop when you sneeze? Let us find out.
Uncovering the Myths
There is a common belief that your heart momentarily stops when you sneeze. Ever wondered why people say “bless you” after you sneeze? Many cultural traditions can explain this. According to some, when you sneeze, your heart stops, and your soul departs your body for an instant. So, to prevent the spirits from entering inside, you need to be blessed again.
According to another European tradition, the idea of heart-stopping came from the Black Plague when death rates went high. A common indication of the plague was sneezing. It was thought that a sneeze would trigger the onset of death, which is why such an idea (of the heart-stopping when you sneeze) came about.
Does Your Heart Stop When You Sneeze?
So, when you sneeze, does your heart stop? It is untrue. The heart beats due to electrical signals passed by the atria, the heart’s upper-right chamber. When you sneeze, the heart rate changes because of the extra built-up pressure in the chest. However, the atria keep sending signals to the heart, which is why the heart cannot possibly stop when you sneeze.
What Exactly Happens When You Sneeze?
A Stimulus Is Generated
When you sneeze, a stimulus is generated. The entry of dust particles, chemicals, or light stimulates the nerve endings of the trigeminal nerve. That initiates a signal in the sneeze center of your brain in the lateral medulla. A sneeze reflex is soon triggered.
The Chest Contracts
This sneeze reflex forces you to take a deep intake of breath. The epiglottis in your throat closes and blocks the vocal cords. As your chest muscles tighten, your diaphragm rises upward, releasing air from your lungs and compressing them, causing a build-up of air in your chest.
The Heart Slows Down
The build-up of air in your chest causes the blood flow rate to the heart to slow down, lowers your blood pressure, and raises your beats per minute (BPM).
The Heart Goes Off-Rhythm
When you sneeze, you exhale violently, the diaphragm moves downwards, and your chest relaxes. That causes the build-up pressure inside your chest to be released. The blood flow rate to the heart increases, your blood pressure increases, and your BPM slows down. Everything happens suddenly, so your heart makes up for that sudden increase in blood pressure. That momentarily interrupts the heartbeat, and your heart goes off-track for a second.
So, does your heart stop as you sneeze? No, it does not. As explained above, sneezing can cause the heart rate to become faster or slower or to skip a beat but not make it stop. You may imagine it as a slight interruption in the traffic flow to your heart. Furthermore, the electrical signals to your heart remain unaltered when you sneeze, so you do not die for a second!
Why Do You Sneeze?
Our bodies are designed such that they try to cope with any external threat as soon as it presents. Whenever exposed to some threat, the body reacts to get rid of it. Sneezing is another coping mechanism our body uses to rid of unwanted particles.
Many stimulants can activate the trigeminal nerve and trigger a sneeze reflex.
Sudden Exposure to Light
Being exposed to bright light suddenly can trigger a sneeze. That is known as photic sneezing. According to some theories, exposure to light rays causes changes in the tear ducts, stimulating a sneeze. While according to others, it is because the nerves that cause you to sneeze are not far away from the ones that respond to light. According to the National Institutes of Health, around one-third of the population is affected by this phenomenon.
Dust particles in the air are stuck in the nose and expelled from the body through sneezing.
People are allergic to substances such as pollen, pollution, dander, and mold. The body releases histamine in reaction to these stimulants, which may trigger a sneezing reflex.
Even strenuous work, like exercise, may cause your nose and mouth to dry out and make your nose drip, leading to a sneeze.
Some medications lead to congestion which can activate a sneezing reflex.
Facial treatments such as plucking eyebrows can strike the nerve in your face that connects to the nasal passage and activate the sneezing mechanism
Other Misconceptions Regarding Sneezing
- You cannot keep your eyes open during sneezing. This misconception is wrong since closing your eyes while sneezing is nothing but a common reflex of some people. Some people manage to keep their eyes open when sneezing.
- Keeping your eyes open during a sneeze will cause them to pop out. That is another misconception since your eye sockets are not so weak as to let the eyes pop out easily.
Fainting Due To Sneezing
In rare cases, the heart rate and blood pressure of a person sneezing may drop so low that they feel dizzy or pass out. That is known as sneeze syncope.
Can Holding Back A Sneeze Have Repercussions?
Holding back a sneeze may be harmful in rare cases. However, it is best if you do not hold back and sneeze.
Some injuries that could happen due to blocking a sneeze are:
- Injuries to the diaphragm
- Breaking a blood vessel in the white of the eye causes bruising around the iris
- It can cause a burst eardrum or damage the inner ear, which can cause vertigo and hearing loss.
- The temporary spike in blood pressure might cause a blood vein in the brain to weaken and burst.
Such repercussions happen in rare cases, so if it does happen to you, you probably have bad luck! So it is still best not to suppress a sneeze and let it go!
The Etiquette of Sneezing
Did you know that sneezing can cause the expelled particles to travel at a radius of up to 5 feet? While you might be getting your body rid of toxins, you can be giving them to someone else! So be careful.
Use tissue paper to cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze, and discard the tissue immediately. If a tissue is unavailable, sneeze into the crook of your elbow. Do not use your hands as that will lead to germs spreading even more.
COVID-19, for example, spreads from person to person in the form of tiny droplets when you cough, sneeze or touch contaminated surfaces. The spread of tiny particles caused a global pandemic.
Ensure washing your hands for at least 20 seconds after you blow out your nose, cough, or sneeze.
Should I be Worried?
There is nothing to worry about! Sneezing does not make your heart stop, nor does your soul leave your body when you sneeze. If, however, you feel dizzy when sneezing, get a check-up. If you sneeze too much, you probably have an allergy you are unaware of, so get an allergy test done.
No, your heart does not stop when you sneeze. It is a myth. When you sneeze, your heartbeat may be thrown off momentarily, but at no time does your heart fully stops functioning.
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