Updated 01 June 2017

Anatomy of a sneeze

Sneezing, also called sternutation, is your body's way of getting something irritating out of your nose. Here's how it works.

Sneezing, also called sternutation, is your body's way of getting something irritating out of your nose.

When the inside of your nose gets a tickle, a message is sent to the part of your brain called the sneeze centre.

The sneeze centre sends a message to all the muscles that have to work together to create the sneeze.

Those include the abdominal muscles, chest muscles, diaphragm, the muscles that control your vocal cords, muscles in the back of your throat, and your eyelid muscles.

It's impossible to keep your eyes open when you sneeze.

The sneeze centre makes all these muscles work in just the right order, to send that irritating particle out of your nose - at speeds up to 100 mph.

About one of every three people sneezes when exposed to bright light; they are called photic sneezers. If you are a photic sneezer, you got it from one of your parents, since it is an inherited trait.

Read more:

When a sneeze could kill you

How far does a sneeze travel?

Cute video of two babies imitating Dad's sneeze

Source: Nemours Center for Children's Health Media


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Dr Morris is the Principal Allergist at the Cape Town and Johannesburg Allergy Clinics with postgraduate diplomas in Allergology, Dermatology, Paediatrics and Family Medicine dealing with both adult and childhood allergies.

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