Why Do I Sneeze?

A sneeze in progress, showing the plume of droplets from a person's mouth.
CDC Public Health Image

What is the best way to stop a sneeze? What does sneezing do for the body? Spotlight looks at sneezes.

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Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2 

And I’m Colin Lowther. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

Today’s Spotlight is on sneezing.

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In ancient Greece, a sneeze was a sign of good luck.

Voice 1 

But in Europe, hundreds of years ago, if a person sneezed, people thought he would surely die.

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Today in parts of India, a sneeze can be a sign that something bad will happen. Some people believe that it is a bad sign if you sneeze before you begin a trip. They say you should take a drink or wait a short while before you continue your trip.

Voice 1 

In parts of eastern Asia, some people think you sneeze because someone is talking about you!

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People have all kinds of beliefs and ideas about sneezing. For example, have you ever heard this one? If you keep your eyes open when you sneeze, your eyes will come out of your head! Scientists today know that this is not true. Your eyes are very securely attached. But some children still tell this story.

Voice 1 

Here is another story about sneezing. But this one is true! Have you ever sneezed in your sleep? The answer is always no! People never sneeze while they are sleeping.

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Through history people have tried to explain why we sneeze. People cannot make themselves sneeze. It is a reflex of our bodies. Doctor Neil Kao is an expert on allergies. He gave the website WebMD a very simple definition for a sneeze.

Voice 3 

“Sneezing is a nerve transmission. This message from a nerve tells your brain that something in your nose needs to come out.”

Voice 1 

A sneeze usually begins in the nose. As people breathe in air through their nose, they also breathe in anything that is in the air. This can be dirt, dust, or germs like viruses and bacteria. The air and these particles enter the nose. Some of the particles get caught in the hairs inside the nose. But the hairs do not always catch everything.

Voice 2 

Some particles go through to the lining, or inside, of the nose. The lining of the nose is very sensitive. That is, it can sense very small particles in the nose. Nerves in the lining sense that it is irritated.

Voice 1 

The nerves in the lining send a message to a particular part of the brain. Some experts simply call this part of the brain the “sneeze center”. The sneeze center accepts these messages from the nose. It sends messages back. The throat, eyes, and mouth close. Then the throat quickly opens again while the lungs pull in quickly. The result is a sneeze! The air from the lungs leaves very quickly. Some experts say sneezes travel from about 55-65kph. Others believe sneezes travel at about 160kph!

Voice 2 

But during a sneeze, it is not just air that leaves a person’s body. The air blows out the liquids in a person’s mouth and nose. This is the saliva from the mouth, and the mucus from the nose. Often, these liquids contain germs like viruses and bacteria. When a person sneezes, these liquids fly quickly out of the nose in very small pieces called droplets. A single sneeze can contain about 40,000 droplets and many more germs!

Voice 1 

There are many reasons why a person sneezes. Many of them are because of chemical or environmental irritants. Some people sneeze when they breathe in strong smells like perfumes or cigarette smoke. The cooking spice pepper makes some people sneeze. Other people may sneeze because of a sudden change in temperature, or a full stomach. Other people sneeze when they look at the sun! This is a particular kind of sneeze called a photic sneeze. About one in every three people are photic sneezers. They get this trait from their parents!

Voice 2 

But there are also ways to avoid this kind of sneezing. If you feel a sneeze coming, press your tongue behind your front two teeth. This is the part behind your teeth, but before your mouth curves up. You may have to use your tongue to push very hard. But you should feel that the sneeze will stop. However, health workers warn that people should not stop a sneeze that has already started. Sneezes travel at great speeds. Stopping a sneeze by blocking the mouth or nose can be dangerous. You could damage your hearing or the blood vessels in your head.

Voice 1

Probably the most famous reason for sneezing is that a person is sick! In fact, sneezing is one major way to spread sicknesses like influenza. As we said, tens of thousands of germs escape from a person’s nose and mouth during a sneeze. These germs can stay in the air or travel with the wind. If someone else breathes them in, he or she may get sick! For this reason, many health experts encourage people to cover their mouths when they sneeze. But what is the best way to do that? One experiment that shows the answer comes from a place people may not expect – television!

Voice 2 

Mythbusters is a television program. In this program, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman try to prove common beliefs about common things - like sneezes. They use science and experiments to look at these beliefs. Adam and Jamie used a very powerful camera to record a person sneezing. Each man put a colored liquid in his mouth. When he sneezed, cameras recorded where the droplets went. Adam and Jamie tested three methods of containing a sneeze. They wanted to know which method stopped the most germs.

Voice 1 

In the first test, Adam sneezed into his open hand. Droplets from his mouth traveled almost three meters! And his hand was covered in droplets. If he touched anything without washing his hands, he would spread the germs.

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Next, Jamie sneezed into his elbow. He found only two droplets in front of him. And there was only a small amount of droplets on his elbow.

Voice 1 

Finally, Adam sneezed into a small cloth. Only a few droplets fell in front of him. The cloth caught most of the droplets. However, some of the droplets went through the cloth and onto Adam’s hand.

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Adam and Jamie discovered the best way to avoid spreading germs while sneezing is to sneeze into your elbow. This is also what the World Health Organization recommends. This can be important to remember during times when sicknesses quickly spread.

Voice 1 

Experts still do not know everything about sneezing. But, they do know one thing. When a person sneezes, you should always say “Bless you!” It is the polite thing to do!

Voice 2 

The writer of this program was Liz Waid. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted and voiced by Spotlight. You can find our programs on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called ‘Why Do I Sneeze?’

Voice 1 

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

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Do you know why you sneeze? Do you know how to stop a sneeze?


Avatar Spotlight
Andrew von Truszczyński
said on March 18, 2013

I is important don’t block sneeze

Avatar Spotlight
said on March 19, 2013

thanks for program help me to know the best way to avoid spreading germs while sneezing
have a nice day!

humble71's avatar
said on March 21, 2013

Bless to you, Spotlight friends , beacause I learnt a lot about this alergic problem that all people around the world suffer and the most important is to sneeze into our elbow then we respect to others around us and don’t spread germs and viruses .  Many people is very unpolite and spread sicknesses because sneezing at the office and also don’t wash their hands inmediately after sneezing. 

Thanks for your time for producing this valuable and interesting program.


Augusto Lenin

Avatar Spotlight
said on March 23, 2013

Hello friends
This theme is to learn when you have to sneeze in public most of all , the respect to the people is very important.
I know that the life is every time so difficult and Our health must care too.
For that these topics show me a lot.


Avatar Spotlight
Jimmy Roberto Espinoza Mercado
said on April 10, 2014

Hi friend! I want to say that I sneeze Angie I spray fugicide on my feet. Instead, other people make sneeze everyone else when they take their shoes off. What a cruel people they are! Thank you!

Avatar Spotlight
Jimmy Roberto Espinoza Mercado
said on April 10, 2014

Hi friend! I want to say that I sneeze when I spray fugicide on my feet. Instead, other people make sneeze everyone else when they take their shoes off. What a cruel people they are! Thank you!

hellokitty's avatar
said on June 06, 2014

I supposed sneeze is nothing for a long time. I got to know about the sneeze’s secret through this text! From now on, when I sneeze, I will say “Bless you!”

Avatar Spotlight
said on June 03, 2015

That’s good!

Avatar Spotlight
said on June 04, 2015

I think that we sneeze because our body is affected by allergies.
Many people are allergic to pollen of the trees, and sneeze a lot.
The bad weather to allergies is in spring and autumn.

Avatar Spotlight
said on June 15, 2015

I often sneeze because I’m allergic. In Italy they say “salute” or “salve” instead of “bless you”. It means “a wish of good health”.

Avatar Spotlight
said on November 10, 2015

“Next, Jamie sneezed into his elbow. He found only two droplets in front of him. And there was only a small amount of droplets on his elbow.” - I wonder what happened to the rest of droplets he sneezed??

Avatar Spotlight
said on November 28, 2016

I think that sneezing is a normal reflex of the body, when we are sick or is allergic to some things.So, I think we should not stop it, but in some cases like we are talking to someone, or where many people, we should stop it .I know that in some cases, if we try to stop it, then some of our nerves will be effected . thanks everyone !

Avatar Spotlight
said on November 29, 2016

I wonder what happen with other germs when i sneeze into the elbow. They come to my clothe?

Avatar Spotlight
Miguel Criollo
said on November 30, 2016

I normally sneeze when I am sick with influence; but I have a particular behavior with the weather. when I change warm weather to cold weather.
So, in my case is necessary to keep warm clothes like gloves and scarf. After some hours my bodyis good.

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on January 05, 2017

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Severino Ramos)
To: spotlight programme
Subject: answer to the questions above
Date: Thursday 05, January 2017
São Paulo SP Brazil

Dear Liz Waid, Colin Lowther, and Michio Ozaki:

At first, I want to thank you for bringing us readers and learners of English more one great article, thanks!
Yes, I do. I sneeze when I am going to get a cold or when I have already got a cold. Yes, I know how to stop sneeze. I should get better of the cold taking medicines as vitamin c . And drinking orange juice and lemon juice. They are great to get better of the cold.

Your regards,
Severino Ramos

Avatar Spotlight
said on June 04, 2019

I often sneeze because I’m allergic to humidity, smells of spice,  looking to the sun make me also sneeze
When I ‘m with people I prefer pinch my nose to stop sneez ; to don’t disturb them.
In my country when a person sneezes
we shall say ”rahimika Ellah” it means bless you”.
Sneezing gives us a well being for this reason I prsonnelly define it as a nasal orgasm.

Avatar Spotlight
said on June 05, 2019

If you are a soldier waiting for the enemy, in a dark night, and suddenly you feel you will sneeze, what you can do? Before sneeze, you catch your nostrils with fingers and press it smoothly. Probably the sneeze will not occur and you’ll can kill the enemy easily and then you’ll can sneeze freely…