Streams

Please Explain: Sneezing

Friday, February 18, 2011

This week’s Please Explain investigates a common phenomenon that’s mysterious to many of us: sneezing! Dr. Marjorie Slankard, Clinical Professor of Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, and Director of the Allergy Clinic at New York Presbyterian Hospital, and Dr.Neil Kao, allergy and asthma specialist with the Allergic Disease and Asthma Center in Greenville, South Carolina, join us.

Guests:

Neil Kao and Marjorie Slankard

Comments [53]

Jan Polatschek from Bangkok, Thailand

I live in Thailand.
There is no equivalent to "G-d Bless you!" in Thai culture. Folks just sneeze, and sometimes, unfortunately, they just sneeze into the air.

Feb. 23 2011 09:46 PM
a g from n j

jeusus and salud, are pretty much interchangeable, for a sneeze. it depends, on either, what you like, or, grew up hearing. jesus, tends to be a little more archaic,and not used by younger people,when someone sneezes,in spanish. bendicion,is another, slightly archaic term used.

Feb. 18 2011 02:09 PM
David Honneus from Brewster, NY

Re sneezing with a sudden bright light. I always sneeze when I walk from a dark interior into the sunlight. I too can make myself sneeze by staring closely at a bright light bulb. I asked a doctor decades ago about this and he said that the optic nerve lies adjacent to the nerve which governs sneezing.He thought that the sudden over-stimulation of the optic nerve excited its neighbor, the sneezing nerve, into action!

Anyway, bright lights make me sneeze!

David Honneus

Feb. 18 2011 02:03 PM
Mariela from New York

I lived in Libya for one year, and learned that when they sneeze, they say thanks to Allah, since they consider that when someone sneezes is almost like dying, if you don't die, it means that God has resurrected you.

Feb. 18 2011 01:59 PM
Karen Delon from NYC

I have found that pressing above the top lip, betw the lips and nose, using your finger like a little bar, always stifles the sneeze and I don't sneeze soon after that either. I do enjoy sneezing at home. When I sneeze from the sun or from looking at a light indoors I only sneeze once.

Feb. 18 2011 01:59 PM
Charlie Roberts from Highlands, NJ

Didn't Sammy Sosa once throw his back out sneezing???

Feb. 18 2011 01:58 PM
robert from bay ridge

sun. more heat comes on the ground. more air moves up. more particles gets in your nose?

Feb. 18 2011 01:57 PM
emily

when i laugh a lot, i begin sneezing uncontrollably.

Feb. 18 2011 01:57 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Please don't talk about antibiotics & sneezing without saying that they're only for bacterial, not viral, infections. Antibiotics are still overprescribed, & that's leading to resistant strains.

Feb. 18 2011 01:57 PM
erianthe from brooklyn

to stop a sneeze rub the tickle on the roof of your mouth with your toung and also kind of suck the saliva out- works most of the time!

Feb. 18 2011 01:56 PM
miyuki from Queens

The prayer 'bless you' in western world, as long as I learned in history class in university, originated in the time of Black Death plague - since the first symptom of it was sneezing. The plague spread through the Silk road, so I do not surprise if there is similar prayers in India or China, but I have never heard such prayers in Japan, Korea, or South East Asian countries which was not influenced by that.

Feb. 18 2011 01:54 PM
Laura from UWS

More info about sneezing, including debunking myths related to orgasm and sneezing:
http://www.snopes.com/science/stats/sneeze.asp

Feb. 18 2011 01:53 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I'd always heard "salud" in Spanish (meaning "health," same as "gesundheit") after sneezes, but when I stayed w/a Spanish family while studying in Spain, they'd say "Jesus!" (pronounced heh-SOOCE)--possibly closer to our "God bless you."

Feb. 18 2011 01:52 PM
Capper from NYC

Best to sneeze into your shirt.

Feb. 18 2011 01:50 PM
liana from brooklyn

Do you have opinions on neti pots? (Effectiveness, drawbacks, concerns...)

Feb. 18 2011 01:49 PM
Laura from UWS

Answer to many questions not covered by guests:

http://www.boston.com/news/science/articles/2004/06/15/why_do_my_eyes_close_every_time_i_sneeze/

Many muscles contract, not just eyes.

Feb. 18 2011 01:49 PM
Capper from NYC

Best to sneeze into your shirt.

Feb. 18 2011 01:49 PM
birdwnyc from manhattan

No lie. I'm listening to this sneezing segment and my nose is runny and I've sneezed at least 3 times! No threat of sneezing before this! Weird.

Feb. 18 2011 01:47 PM
Gary Gladstone from Carmel, NY

I was told by a friend that sneezing is clinically the same as a full body orgasm. Is that true?

This supposed fact lead my friends to say that if you suppress a sneeze or hold it inside, that you will be seen as a "repressed lover" and accordingly someone to be avoided in the romance department.

Gary

Feb. 18 2011 01:47 PM
Frank from Kenilworth, NJ

In my family there are five siblings who sneeze after having a meal at any time during the day. When a meal is completed
It's only a few minutes before one sibling would
Sneeze a storm or another with just a couple of sneezes...I've been spared!!

Feb. 18 2011 01:46 PM
Tim L. from Staten Island

I have a strange experience that I've never been able to explain. Maybe your guests can. Whenever I choke on anything, even a little bit - whether it’s my spit, a Tic Tac, whatever - within 10 or 15 seconds I ALWAYS erupt in no-holds-barred sneeze. It seems my bronchial plumbing has been exquisitely designed to produce this effect. The day I choke without sneezing afterward will probably be the day I die. Has anyone else experienced this?

Feb. 18 2011 01:45 PM
znm200 from Brooklyn

Hello,
Every so often I sneeze after dinner (only) - I can't determine what food or even pepper triggers it. When it happens,it's a minimum of 6-8 sneezes. Any idea how to determine the cause?

Feb. 18 2011 01:43 PM
Amy from Manhattan

On covering your sneezing when you have a contagious infection, you don't always know. Many infections, incl. colds, can be spread while they're still incubating & you don't know you have them yet.

I've found I can sometimes prevent a sneeze when I feel one coming on by breathing out slowly through my nose. Doesn't always work, though--mostly when there's a physical irritation in my nostril, not when I have a cold/stuffy nose.

Feb. 18 2011 01:43 PM
Sherril Smoger-Kessous from Morris Plains, NJ

Can you talk about covering your mouth with your hand vs the crook of your arm vs not covering at all (is that bad if no one else is around?)

Feb. 18 2011 01:43 PM
Paul from White Plains

Is there a physiological difference between the sneeze which is part of a cold and the sneeze caused by allergy?

Feb. 18 2011 01:43 PM
anne from brooklyn

my family has a tradition of encouraging people to say 'grapefruit' when trying not to sneeze. it doesn't really work, but it's quite a laugh!

Feb. 18 2011 01:42 PM
robert from bay ridge

what to do in situation that you already sneezed couple of times and there is that last one and you cannot to sneeze that out? some say to tilt the head back. sometime it works. what is the cause of this last weird sneeze?

Feb. 18 2011 01:42 PM
Christine from New York

My cat sneezes all the time every since he was a kitten. The vet said it was okay as long as his eyes and nose doesn't run. Does my cat have allergies?

Feb. 18 2011 01:41 PM
Brad from East Village

On the idea of 'bless you' and keeping the devil out--in eastern medicine, like acupuncture, germs are still referred to as spirits/ghosts. Perhaps this is connected to the same notions in western culture with the plague.

Feb. 18 2011 01:40 PM
Dan Kulkosky from New York City

Myth Busters determined that the elbow technique is the most effective. In an experiment with colored water and pepper, they determined that using your hand to cover your mouth still allowed mucus to fly up to eight feet. The colored liquid easily penetrated a handkerchief, then there was the problem of putting the fouled cloth back in your pocket. The elbow method kept the liquid within a very short radius.

Feb. 18 2011 01:40 PM
Mary from Huntington

My daughter sneezes when she steps out into the sunshine. Can sunlight trigger sneezing? Why?

Feb. 18 2011 01:40 PM
JG from Teaneck

I don't think I've ever seen a president sneeze during the state of the union, or during a televised event. Why is this?

Feb. 18 2011 01:40 PM
Estelle from Austin

To Ramaswamy from Closter, NJ:
I ask my husband to sneeze into his shoulder or the crook of his arm, which not only muffles it, but curbs germ-spreading too. It requires a little practice to establish the habit, but is very much appreciated.

Feb. 18 2011 01:39 PM
jl

hi, i love that you're talking about this.
does looking at the sun encourage a lingering sneeze to happen?

Feb. 18 2011 01:39 PM
Dan Kulkosky from New York City

Myth Busters determined that the elbow technique is the most effective. In an experiment with colored water and pepper, they determined that using your hand to cover your mouth still allowed mucus to fly up to eight feet. The colored liquid easily penetrated a handkerchief, then there was the problem of putting the fouled cloth back in your pocket. The elbow method kept the liquid within a very short radius.

Feb. 18 2011 01:38 PM
anne from brooklyn

my family has a tradition of encouraging people to say 'grapefruit' when trying not to sneeze. it doesn't really work, but it's quite a laugh!

Feb. 18 2011 01:38 PM
Ted from Newburgh

Two things,
your guests don;t seem to know about the tests "Mythbusters" did about sneezing and how far it travels. And, they didn't answer what happens if you try and supress a sneeze. I've seen people pinch their noses short and and try and hold it in. And all they can say is, "not that I know...." ? It' can't be good for you.....

Feb. 18 2011 01:38 PM
Sheri from UWS

I am a veterinarian and call say it's been documented that when a cat sneezes, the droplets can travel some 20 feet.

I am surprised the doctor said that our sneezes only travel 4-5 feet.

Feb. 18 2011 01:37 PM
c from Highlands, NJ

My mother always sneezed in threes.

Feb. 18 2011 01:37 PM
charles panossian from tarrytown, ny

I surpressed a sneeze once and felt something in my throat snap. I haven't been able to swallow normally since. Very frustrating.

Feb. 18 2011 01:37 PM
Mike from Manhattan

Leonard and guests, I was always told that when you try to stop a sneeze by holding your nose you could force mucus up the eustachian tube and into the middle ear, thereby converting a simple cold into an ear infection. Is this true?

Feb. 18 2011 01:37 PM
Kevin from NYC

I sneeze multiple times - up to 20 or more in a row - when triggered by certain things, inks on newsprint for example. what's going on there, and what should i do?

Feb. 18 2011 01:36 PM
ramaswamy from Closter, NJ

My question is about sneezing (and coughing). My wife complains that my sneezes (and coughs) are too strong, too loud etc. According to her, I should be able to suppress my coughs and sneezes or at least make them less strong. Is this reasonable ? What does the guest think?

Feb. 18 2011 01:36 PM
Gillian Randell from Brooklyn heights

What is the best advice when driving and one sneezes? Or has a sneezing attack while driving? Thank you.

Feb. 18 2011 01:35 PM
robert from bay ridge

i remember when i was a kid, we used to sneeze not more than three times at a time. the fourth time was even consider as a good luck sneeze. now i hear people sneeze 5-6-7 time at a time, me included.

Feb. 18 2011 01:35 PM
Carrie from NYC

All this sneezing just made me sneeze and to ask the question 'why are some of us multiple sneezers and others are not?'

Feb. 18 2011 01:34 PM
Ramaswamy from Closter, NJ

My question is about sneezing (and coughing). My wife complains that my sneezes (and coughs) are too strong, too loud etc. According to her, I should be able to suppress my coughs and sneezes or at least make them less strong. Is this reasonable ? What does the guest think?

Feb. 18 2011 01:34 PM
Estelle from Austin

Is there some physiological difference in a yelling type sneeze? It seems to be the reverse of the more common type sneeze, where the "ah" is an inhale, and the "choo" is an exhale. My husband and my dad both yell the "AAAAH," which requires exhaling. I don't get it. And it really seems involuntary, too.
Lifelong mystery! Please explain!

Feb. 18 2011 01:34 PM
james from Westchester

There are people whom I know that sneeze three or four times...they NEVER just sneeze once.

Feb. 18 2011 01:32 PM
Joe from Englewood, NJ

Is it possible that virus's could have evolved to cause us to sneeze to help pass the virus to other hosts?

Feb. 18 2011 01:28 PM
robert from bay ridge

What does the guest think about silent sneezing or suppressing sneezing. It is polite to others (especially in a concert hall) but is it healthy?

Feb. 18 2011 01:26 PM
Michael

Why is it that you can sneeze like crazy during the day, but once you fall asleep, you won't sneeze until the morning?

Why don't you sneeze at night?

Feb. 18 2011 12:15 PM
a g from n j

this may sound little off,but i think that people who are chemically and environmentally sensitive,tend to sneeze more often, and more easily. i've also,observed,that these people, are often more emotionally sensitive, and more intelligent, than the non-compulsive sneezing types. i won't say if i'm talking about myelf, but.....
the opposite is also true. what is the last time, anyone saw a tough gruff person, caught up in a sneezing fit. i've never seen it.

Feb. 18 2011 10:24 AM

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