Sneezing: Truth Coming to Light

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We've all been there. Actually, I was just there a solid seven seconds ago, which triggered the idea for writing this post at 3 a.m. (not that I would be sleeping, anyway). I was sitting in the HUB with my two roommates studying for Math when I stopped mid-sentence and made a rather hideous face. My eyes quickly scanned for any source of light, but unfortunately, I did not sneeze. I had been told my entire life by my mother that when you're trying to sneeze, look for a source of light, and I always followed it religiously. There are plenty of age-old tricks/theories that we were taught as children, but have they ever been proven? Can light really help trigger a sneeze?

Fortunately, the answer is yes. According to the Scientific American, one third of the population has used light to help trigger a sneeze, and there is a reason why. It's a bit mind blowing to think that something as simple and a daily action like sneezing is still unexplained by science, but somehow, there are ways to help you do it? 

This aforementioned article continues to explain that, in simpler terms, a sneeze is triggered by irritation in the nose. The nerve that initiates the sneezing (trigeminal nerve, scientifically speaking) borderlines another nerve called the optic nerve, which is responsible for sensing light within the retinas in the eyes. So, as theorized, when you look at the huge lights in the second floor of the HUB when you're trying to sneeze, the optic nerve gets a bit confused, and mistakes this flood of sensation work for the trigeminal nerve, which handles it by sneezing to relief the apparent irritation in the nose. Basically, these two nerves are so close together and are both impacted by light, so the body just makes you sneeze to relieve the stimulation. 

Apparently, this battle between the trigeminal and optic nerves, according to Live Science, actually has a name. The next time you feel a horrible, struggling sneeze, and find yourself searching for any sort of light, you are using what is called the pupillary light reflex. 

So, go give mom a call and thank her for teaching you that age-old trick when you were a kid, or thank God you don't live in a cave. Without light, as proven by the body war between two of your nerves, you really would not be able to sneeze. 

1 Comment

Sneezing is terrible. I've actually never heard of this trick before so thanks for that it's good to know that there's science to back it up. I hate the feeling of having to sneeze and not being able to. I also hate when I sneeze 7 times in a row. I think just talking about sneezing is making me feel the need to sneeze! You told us about a way to initiate a sneeze, so here are some ways to stop sneezing. According to this article on LiveStrong sneezing is a continuous cycle! So whether you need to sneeze or need to stop sneezing, I think we've got them both covered.

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