Does your heart actually stop when you sneeze?

You’ll never believe what can make you sneeze

Bless you! (Photo by Brandon Nickerson from Pexels)

Have you ever heard someone say that your heart stops for a moment every time you sneeze?

Whew, if that were the case, allergy season might be a tad bit scarier, and you'd probably now have a lot of lucky years under your belt of surviving potentially "life-threatening sneezes."

So, to cut straight to the chase, your heart doesn’t actually stop when you sneeze. However, the act of sneezing does do something.

When you sneeze, reflexes are triggered, along with pressure changes to the airway, said Dr. Frank McGeorge.

We’re happy to tell you though -- your heart definitely does not stop.

In general, sneezing is our body’s way of clearing the nose of bacteria and viruses.

Aside from the important process sneezing accomplishes for the immune system, there are other things that can cause us to sneeze.

For starters, you’re not crazy: The sunshine really can make you sneeze. It's called photic sneezing, according to McGeorge, and it happens when you go from the inside to the outside. There are a few theories as to why this happens. One says nerves that bring in light aren't far from ones that cause you to sneeze. Another says that sudden exposure to bright light can cause changes in the tear ducts, which also stimulate a sneeze. Either way, you can blame this one on your relatives, as light sensitivity is said to be an inherited trait.

If you’ve ever said you’re allergic to working out, you might not be totally lying. OK, that’s not a legitimate excuse, but it turns out exercising can make you sneeze. When you’re overexerted, you can hyperventilate, causing your nose and mouth to dry up, which can then make your nose drip, leading to a sneeze.

Sex -- yes, sex -- can trigger a sneeze. If we're being totally honest, McGeorge said this one is incredibly uncommon, but a person may become congested when they are aroused, due to engorgement from stimuli.

On that note, there have also been medications known to cause horrible congestion, which can lead to sneezing. McGeorge specifically named Viagra -- which treats erectile dysfunction -- as well as the antidepressant Doxepin.

Plucking your eyebrows can strike a nerve in your face that reaches the nasal passage. That, in turn, can cause you to sneeze.

So, back to the whole myth of your heart stopping. It's an ancient belief that sneezing is a near-death experience and saying “bless you” immediately after someone sneezes protects the sneezer from death (you know, after their heart stops).

And while we’ve already debunked that myth, maybe we can just continue to err on the side of caution, or just be courteous, and keep extending that “bless you” when warranted.

This story was first published in 2019. It has since been updated.