Has this ever happened to you? You’re walking along, minding your own business when suddenly, for no reason, you sneeze? You make a weird noise, spew out a bit of mucous, maybe pee your pants a little and go on your way. But, next time you look in the mirror you realize one of your eyeballs is completely bloody?
No? It’s never happened to you? Well, it had never happened to me either until Sunday. But it’s okay. I remained calm, assessed the situation and figured I’d had a small brain aneurysm and this was nature’s way of pointing it out to me. Ordinarily, I would have left it at that, but I had to go pick up a few groceries anyway and a walk-in clinic happened to be in the same strip mall and since everyone was too busy watching some sort of super-bowling thing to be sick, the clinic was, for the first time ever, not jam-packed.
The doctor said it was probably just a subconjunctival hemorrhage , which sounds really impressive, but is really only a burst blood vessel from sneezing or some other strain. She did take my blood pressure to make sure I wasn’t stroking out, but that was pretty much it for my pathetic little medical drama.
Sneezing sounds like a fairly innocuous activity, but it’s actually fraught with dangers beyond popping a blood vessel or two or the spread of disease. Just ask Zoom about The Sneeze That Changed Her Life that resulted in excrutating spinal pain and mobility decline, weeks in a wheelchair and finally back surgery. It happens all the time – people throw their backs out and slip or rupture discs just by sneezing.
No wonder — scientists estimate the speed of a sneeze at approximately 100 – 300 mph! And what that force sometimes does to your body is remarkable.
A forceful sneeze has broken or cracked people’s ribs, caused whiplash and even brought on heart attacks. Suppressed sneezes are even more dangerous. They can cause massive build-up of pressure in the head, which can cause injuries such as a burst eardrum, torn blood vessels and muscles in the head, damaged sinuses and even, in rare cases, brain hemorrhages. Heavy bouts of sneezing have likewise caused brain hemorrhages, heart attacks and even death.
People have chipped and broken teeth while sneezing; bitten their tongues or cheeks which later became infected and caused no end of trouble. And the droplets from a sneeze can disperse as far as 8 feet and infect anyone breathing them in. So, when you feel a sneeze coming on, grab a tissue, try to brace yourself – hold your abdominal muscles tight and don’t let the sneeze hurl your head and body around too much.
Some of the stories we’ve all heard about sneezing, however, are not true.
- Your heart does not stop when you sneeze
- Your eyes will not pop out of your head if you don’t close them while you sneeze
- If a woman sneezes right after having sex, it will NOT prevent pregnancy
Saying “Bless You” after someone sneezes dates back to the 14th Century and the Black Plague. Sneezing was one of the first symptoms of the plague, so people would ask for blessing whenever they sneezed in hopes that they weren’t going become afflicted.
Pretty much every culture today responds to someone else’s sneeze either with a variation of Bless You or a variation of Gesundheit — which means “health”. Isn’t that strange? Nobody just says “ewwww”, which is usually my first instinct.
And my eye? It seems to be recovering nicely. Thank you for asking.