By Vicki Santillano, DivineCaroline
I’ve always looked forward to my dad’s sneezes. (Yeah, I know how weird that sounds.) Not
that I’m constantly hoping he’ll catch a cold, but he has the best sneeze I’ve ever heard. It’s loud, powerful, and it sounds like he’s crying out “Blllleeessss ya!” each time he does it. His sneezes sound wholly satisfying–the antithesis to the barely-audible squeaks emitted by the woman I sat next to on the bus this morning.
The same kind of irritants (dust, pepper, etc.) can create the same internal reaction in all of us, but its externalization is highly individualized. We all know that everyone sneezes differently, but have we ever considered why? For being such a common, everyday occurrence, that little (or big) expulsion of air is actually a complex process involving more nuances than many of us realize.
1. Sneezing’s official name is sternutation.
The word sternutation sounds like a serious medical procedure, but it’s really just another way of saying sneezing. However you say it, the method remains the same. When something tickles the nose lining, the nerves located there send a signal to the brain, which initiates a chain of messages to other parts of the body–chest, abdomen, face, eyelids, the mucus glands in the nose, even the sphincter–that work together to expel the irritant. When we fall asleep, those nerves are at rest, which is why we don’t sneeze while we snooze.
Related: The Science of the Kiss