Why Can’t We Sneeze With Our Eyes Open?

The simple answer is that we can’t control what our body does when we sneeze because this is an automatic action. Our body does certain specific things during a sneeze and closing the eyes is one of those. The human brain signals the body, telling it that a tickle or other feeling in the nose requires a sneeze to get rid of that feeling. At this time, the brain also tells the eyes to close for the split second that we sneeze.

The sneeze is a method devised naturally, over time, to rid the body of germs and objects that cause discomfort or may cause injury. (It’s interesting to note that many people also sneeze when they encounter bright light. This is an inherited trait and is also a method of protecting the body.)

As mentioned earlier, we can’t control what our body does when the brain signals it to take certain automatic actions. That’s why a person who sneezes with his or her eyes closed will not be able to intentionally keep the eyes open during a sneeze. Apparently some people can sneeze and keep their eyes open, but they have as little control over this as do the people whose eyes clamped shut during a sneeze.

What is this automatic action that we can’t control? It’s a reflex, such as blinking when something approaches the eyes too closely. Doctors sometimes test reflexes by tapping on a certain spot on the leg. If the ligaments and muscles are in good condition and are in a certain position when the doctor taps, the individual won’t be able to stop his or her leg from reacting.

Some people claim to be able train themselves to keep their eyes open when they sneeze, but this is often possible only after they have practiced by physically holding the eyelids up during a sneeze. (It seems like a lot of trouble to go through, trying to reverse something that is a natural method of protection for the body.)

One of the myths passed around about sneezing and the closing of eyes is that this naturally protects the eyes from germs or from popping too far out in the eye socket. Most experts and medical personnel have stated that both these “reasons” are untrue. The eyes deal with much more dangerous and unhealthy conditions all the time. In addition, the eyes will not pop out or sustain damage if left open during a sneeze.

Perhaps the velocity of air expelled during a sneeze started some of these rumors. When a normal, healthy person sneezes, air leaves the nostrils and mouth at speeds over 100 miles per hour. At least that’s what the estimates and measurements state.

There are various opinions about the exact actions the body takes when a person sneezes, but most people understand that the muscle tension in the body is at least part of the cause. Medical books and research sources can provide much more detail about this curious action of the human being.

Written by Lucas Beaumont

Generalist. Wikipedia contributor. Elementary school teacher from Saskatchewan, Canada.

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