An “Achoo,” followed by a courteous “God bless you.” It’s an exchange that we hear or experience every day, but what is a sneeze, what causes us to sneeze and why do we bless someone after sneezing?

ThinkstockPhotos-177511684Basically, sneezing is the result of your nerves sending your brain a message that there is something in your nose that needs to come out. In many cases, it is an allergen, bacteria or a virus that your nerves are forcing out of your nose, so the act of sneezing is actually an important part of our immune system and serves to keep us healthy.

There are many superstitions about sneezes. Some believe that your heart stops when you sneeze or that your eyeballs can pop out if you sneeze too hard. These are obviously not true. The fact is that when something enters your nose, a trigger is sent to a “sneeze center” of your brain, located in the lower stem. This portion of the brain sends signals to tightly close your throat, eyes, and moth. Next, your chest muscles contract, and then your throat muscles quickly relax and mucus and saliva is forced out of your nose, along with whatever triggered the impulse.

In addition to ridding your body of germs, many other things can cause someone to sneeze and they vary from person to person. One of the most common triggers is sunlight. Bright light causes one out of three people to sneeze. Other things that can cause someone to sneeze is plucking their eyebrows, exercising, and even sex. While everyone has different sneeze triggers, one common truth for all of us is that we do usually not sneeze when we sleep. This is because when our body is at rest, so too are our sneezing nerves.

As for blessing someone after they sneeze, that too is based in superstition. It was an ancient belief that sneezing was a near-death experience and that a blessing would prevent your soul from escaping your body and deter evil spirits from entering.

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