Larissa Stouffer of Melrose, Mass., usually sneezes not once, not twice, but
three times. She sneezes as she gets into a car if it's sunny outside, but not
when it's cloudy; her dad does the same thing. And as soon as she pops some
mint chewing gum into her mouth, out comes an achoo.
Stouffer, 30, isn't the only one with a fickle nose. Many people sneeze at
peculiar moments -- such as after exercise, plucking their eyebrows, in the
sunshine, or after sex.
Here are the reasons why they sneeze at odd times, and why all of us sneeze
in the first place.
1. "Sneezes start in your nerves," says Neil Kao, MD, an allergy and
asthma specialist at the Allergic Disease and Asthma Center in Greenville,
Everyone's nervous system is basically wired in the same way, Kao explains.
But signals traveling along nerves can take slightly different paths to and
from the brain, resulting in different sneeze scenarios from person to
"It's a nerve transmission that tells your brain something is in your nose
that needs to come out," Kao tells WebMD.
2. Sneezing helps keep your body safe. "Sneezing is an important part
of the immune process, helping to keep us healthy and sniffle-free" Kao
Sneezes protect your body by clearing the nose of bacteria and viruses, Kao
explains. When something enters your nose or you encounter a trigger that
sets off your "sneeze center" in your brain, located in the lower brain stem,
signals are rapidly sent to tightly close your throat, eyes, and mouth. Next,
your chest muscles vigorously contract, and then your throat muscles quickly
relax. As result, air -- along with saliva and mucus -- is forced out of your
mouth and nose. Voila, you've sneezed.
3. Sneezes are speedy. "Sneezes travel at about 100 miles per hour,"
says Patti Wood, author of Success Signals: Understanding Body Language.
She adds that a single sneeze can send 100,000 germs into the air.
4. Plucking your eyebrows may make you sneeze. Plucking may set off a
nerve in your face that supplies your nasal passages. As a result, you
5. You don't sneeze in your sleep. When you sleep, so do your
sneezing nerves -- which means you usually don't sneeze when you doze.
6. Your workout may make you sneeze. "Exercise can make you sneeze,"
Kao says. "You hyperventilate when you're over-exerted, and as a result, your
nose and mouth start to dry up. So your nose reacts by starting to drip, making
7. The longest sneezing spree: 978 days, a record set by Donna
Griffiths of Worcestershire, England, according to background information on
the Library of Congress' web site.
8. Sunshine may make you sneeze. "Bright sunlight causes one out of
three people to sneeze," Wood says. "The light sneezers are called 'photics,'
from the Greek meaning ‘of light.' And in fact, light sensitivity is an
inherited trait -- just one more thing we can blame on our parents."