A sneeze is a sudden reflex action that helps to expel irritants from the nose. When something irritating enters the nose, it sends a signal to the brain, which then causes a reaction in the body’s muscles. This muscular reaction creates the ‘sneeze’, where air is expelled rapidly from the lungs to get rid of the irritant. The sneezing reflex helps us to protect our respiratory system from potential irritants and it is therefore a natural defense mechanism that assists in keeping the body safe from what might be potentially harmful particles entering our lungs.
What are the common causes of a sneeze?
Sneezing can have many causes, some of which are down to the individual, but broadly speaking there are some headline causes to look out for. If you want to either induce sneezing – or avoid sneezing – be aware of the following factors.
- Irritants, such as dust or pollen entering the nasal passages.
- Allergies, like hayfever
- Some scents or odors
- Common colds or blocked sinuses
- Respiratory infections
- Minor irritation to the nostrils, e.g., with a feather or pepper
If you need to induce sneezing, pepper at the nostrils is a very good way of bringing a sneeze on.
What is the science behind inducing a sneeze?
Sneezes are really an effect of the nervous system in action. When something enters your nasal cavity, like a finger, or an irritant, or a strong smell, it triggers a signal to your brain. Though it is not widely known, it’s also possible to induce a sneeze by looking at a bright light, as this stimulus can cause a nerve impulse that signals to your brain and that then activates the sneeze reflex. Sneezing is ultimately best thought of as a way of the body protecting itself, since it expels foreign particles from your nostrils and keeps your respiratory system healthy.
Benefits of Making Yourself Sneeze
Relief from stuffiness
Sneezing is the friend of anyone who has an irritation in the nose. Sneezing can help clear your sinuses and provide relief from stuffiness and blocked mucus. The power of sneezing helps to break down mucus or blockages and makes them easier to then blow from the nose. If you are trying to make yourself sneeze, it can help to irrigate your sinuses with a saline solution, or even simply to take a hot shower, as the steam and the friction it creates in the nose can provoke sneezing.
Preventing the spread of germs
Sneezing can help you expel the germs in your nose or sinuses that might then lead to infections or a cold if they are not got rid of. In that sense, sneezing is really healthy for you. But be aware that you are expelling a lot of germs out your nose at pace, and that the spread of your sneeze can be significant. Make sure, therefore, to gather your sneeze in a tissue or even in your sleeve, rather than spread germs. Whatever you do, try to avoid the sneeze getting on your hands, as this will mean you are carrying the bacteria from your sneeze around with you and spreading germs. It’s very useful to keep a hand-sanitizer with you.
Remedies to Make Yourself Sneeze
Breathing in powdery substances
As we said above, the most common technique to induce a sneeze is to take a pinch of something like pepper, chili powder, talcum powder, or flour and inhale it. Even a modest amount at the edge of the nostrils can lead to a bout of sneezing, especially with pepper. Be careful not to use too much; it won’t need a lot. There are also special sneezing powders available, which are usually made from harmless powders or perfumes or ground plants.
Stimulating the roof of the mouth
This is another little known remedy, but if you take your tongue and rub it in a circular motion on the top part of the inside of your mouth it leads to an itching sensation at the back of the throat.
By doing this, you stimulate the trigeminal nerve, which then triggers the sneeze reflex.
Staring into bright lights
You obviously need to ensure you do not damage your eyes doing this, but many people believe this works for them. By looking at something very bright, it stimulates the nerve endings in your nose, which can potentially cause a sneeze. One theory is that light causes you to squint, which may then give you the feeling of having something stuck in your nose, causing a response that helps to expel it.
Yawning is a reflex that’s been around since humans have existed. Studies have found that the act of yawning oddly acts to make us more alert, even though we associate it with tiredness. However, it also serves other purposes. It can help regulate our body temperature, and in some cases can even reduce stress levels. It is also considered a stimulus to sneezing as the breathing in that we engage in when we yawn, followed by the exhaling, can stimulate the nostrils into feeling provoked to sneeze.
Use an essential oil
It may not be widely known, but peppermint oil and eucalyptus oil are two essential oils that have properties that can trigger a sneeze reflex. Inhaling the vapors from these oils can lead to a sudden spasm in your respiratory system, and this can result in a sneeze. It’s important to be aware that affects can be different for everyone, but there is a high chance that the use of these oils will succeed in provoking a sneeze.
Think about something irritating
Another way to induce sneezing that some people find useful is to think of irritating things. This can, in some cases, lead to the nose feeling itchy, and this can then trigger a sneezing bout. Though it won’t work for everyone, it can occasionally be a route to helping the nose feel stimulated to expel any irritants.
Rub your nose
Another remedy that works for some people is to rub the nose in a circular motion with your fingers so that the pressure causes a tickle that triggers a sneeze.
Eat spicy food
This is a well known source of nasal irritation for many people. If you are susceptible to spicy foods there is a high chance that eating them or even just smelling them will induce in you the desire to sneeze. It is a byproduct of heightened sensitivity to the spices. It is not only the taste buds that can be affected by spices, it is the nasal sense organs too, so if you want to sneeze, either eat something spiced, or even just smell some spices, if you are extremely sensitive to them.
Drink carbonated beverage
The effects of the bubbles and carbonation in such drinks can quite easily register in the nose, especially if you drink them quickly. As the bubbles burst in the mouth they set off a reaction in the nose and this means the nose is irritated, often sufficiently notably to be made to sneeze. You will also burp, and this may also help assist in sneezing.
Though you would never want to get tired just to be able to sneeze, tiredness is a well known cause of increased bursts of sneezing. If you want to know whether your body is too tired, monitor your sneezing, and you may find that the sneezing acts almost as a barometer of how tired you are. Sneezing can be a sign you need rest!
Safety Tips When Making Yourself Sneeze
Avoid putting anything in your nose
Certainly avoid sticking anything undue up your nose, as there is a high chance you may do damage and quite possibly cause an infection. You need to keep bacteria out of the nose and inserting fingers or anything potentially harmful inside your nostrils will do damage to the nasal lining and lead to wider problems. Inserting anything too far may damage the nasal cavity and also break blood vessels that will lead to a nose bleed.
Do not perform any action aggressively
You are ideally better using non-intrusive methods, which is why pepper and powders are often the best ways. Even though these strategies are effective, they should still be done in a gentle manner and you should avoid shoving or sniffing pepper too hard and extensively up your nose, as it is neither necessary nor wise to over-stimulate the nostrils like that.
Seek medical attention if you have difficulty controlling your sneezes.
Controlling your sneezes can be difficult, and thus it is important to be careful and monitor your sneezing habits. Though we might think of sneezing as in some ways a fun sort of thing and not dangerous, if you sneeze violently or if you can’t control your sneezing, you can easily do a bit of damage to your nose lining, as well having the annoyance of the sneezing being potentially highly embarrassing and socially disruptive.
Excessive sneezing may also be a sign of sinus problems, so if you really find it impossible to control your sneezing you need to see a doctor or head to your pharmacist. It should not be too difficult to sort, but you may need medical advice.