March 14 was “International Ask a Question Day,” and over on our Facebook page, we invited our readers to, well, ask a question and be entered in a giveaway. The response was overwhelming—hundreds of you BRI stalwarts posed a trivia conundrum. Unfortunately, we can’t answer all of them and not everyone can be a winner, but we did pick five of the most intriguing one…which we’re going to answer here. One of our winning questions comes from reader Jackie G.., who asked…
Why do you close your eyes when you sneeze?
Perhaps because it’s such a violent, explosive action that rocks the entire body, particularly the head, there are a lot of urban legends surrounding the sneeze. Goodness—people used to proactively say “bless you” out of a fear a sneeze would shoot a soul right out of a person’s nose-hole. More recently, you probably remember the old playground tall tale that a sneeze was so forceful it could send something more corporeal than a soul out of one’s noggin: Their eyes. That, the reasoning stated, was why it’s so hard—if not impossible—to keep one’s eyes open during a sneeze. The body simply has a natural defense system in place to keep the eyeballs where they belong in the event of a sneeze.
Are your Eyes Secure?
Good news: Your eyes are very secure in their sockets, and it’s going to take quite a bit to dislodge them, but it certainly won’t take something as common as a sneeze to do it. (That would be a serious biological flaw) Also, the eyes and nose don’t have a whole lot to do with one another…at least not during a sneeze The pressure exerted from a high-speed sneeze doesn’t get transferred to the eye sockets, more is there any kind of muscle behind the eye that pushes them out.
Nevertheless, when you sneeze, the eyes automatically close at the moment of snotty expulsion. Why? Like the playground tale suggested, there’s a reflex. The nose and eyes are linked in a sneeze only as much as they’re both on a cranial nerve pathway. The stimulation (and agitation) from a sneeze rapidly travels from the nose to the brain, then milliseconds later down another nerve to the eyes. That all plays out as a simultaneous sneeze and blink.
Cool Party Trick
However, there is the extremely rare individual whose brain doesn’t quite fire this way, meaning that they can keep their eyes open during a sneeze…if they want to. It’s a cool party trick, and they can do so without worry that those eyes will fly across the room and into the punchbowl.