The Science of Sneezing

Tis’ the season! Let’s discuss the reason for sneezin’.


Leah Tarwater

Tissues can save you from a mucus mess.

Leah Tarwater, Reporter

What is a sneeze, why do they happen, and what’s the reason for ‘bless you’? Sneezes are a common occurrence – possibly a daily occurrence for some. A sneeze is one of the body’s natural defenses, a “sudden, forceful, uncontrolled burst of air through the nose and mouth.” Most commonly, this is a result of allergies, air pollution, or drug withdrawal. Though it can be an indicator of illness, a sneeze is rarely cause for concern. What may be shocking is not always the cause, but the sheer speed of a sneeze – one could travel at about 100 miles per hour (unfortunately, also unleashing up to 100,000 germs in the air).

What provokes such a force? Not every signal takes the same nerve tours to the brain, which can cause some interesting mix-ups in the cause of a sneeze. Plucking your eyebrows, walking out into the sunlight, or working out may bring on a sneeze. This is simply because—with the overload of nerves in your face—sometimes a message accidentally taps into the wrong nerve, sending an unexpected new kind of message.

Beware the force of pollen! Being outdoors in the springtime can result in a stuffy nose. Image by Leah Tarwater.

Gesundheit, salud, à tes! Whether you’re wishing good health, better weather tomorrow, or a long life, there’s no shortage of ways to respond to a sneeze. But where’d this courteous universal reaction to sneezes come from? Though the true origins are hard to properly track down, it is believed that the saying – or blessing – actually came from the Pope. As the bubonic plague spread across Europe, the idea was that a blessing from God would protect them from poor health.

Fun fact: In Latin American Spanish, the first sneeze is met with “salud” meaning health; a second sneeze prompts your peers to say “dinero” meaning money; and a third sneeze wishes you “amor” or love!

Next time you sneeze, whether it be from allergies or another strange nerve miscommunication, don’t sell yourself short! Wish yourself good health, a long life, and a better tomorrow, and probably consider carrying around a tissue or two.



Lyons, Dylan. “How to Respond to a Sneeze in 6 Different Languages.” Babbel Magazine, Babbel, 17 Nov. 2022,

“Sneezing: Medlineplus Medical Encyclopedia.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine,

“Surprising Things That Make You Sneeze.” WebMD, WebMD,