Yes, you can sneeze with your eyes open.
And, no, the schoolyard legend, “If you sneeze with your eyes open, your eyeballs will pop out of your head,” isn’t true.
Keep reading to learn more about the mechanisms of sneezing — and why our eyes automatically close when we do.
Sneezing includes an autonomic reflex that closes your eyes.
An autonomic reflex is a motor action that your body makes in response to a stimulus. It doesn’t involve a conscious decision on your part to take that action.
It’s possible to sneeze with your eyes open, but most people have to make a concerted effort to override their reflex to keep their eyes open.
There’s no definitive clinical data to explain why we close our eyes when we sneeze. Some people think that it could be to protect the eyes from irritants that are being expelled by our bodies with the sneeze.
More research is needed to fully understand why closing our eyes is part of the automatic reflex.
A sneeze, medically referred to as sternutation, is a response to something irritating or tickling the inside of your nose.
It can be described as a sudden and powerful expulsion of air, with air exiting your nose at a rate of 100 miles per hour.
Sneezing is your body’s way of getting rid of unwelcome particles from your nasal passages — just like a cough is your body’s way of getting rid of unwelcome particles from your throat and lungs. It’s estimated that a sneeze expels about 100,000 germs.
Typical causes for sneezing include:
- allergies, such as to dust, pollen, dander, and mold
- cold and flu
- cold air
- dry air
- air pollution
- certain spices, such as pepper, coriander, and cumin
The ACHOO syndrome
You may sneeze, or feel a prickling sensation indicating a potential sneeze, when
The LOC also reports that you might sneeze when plucking your eyebrows. When you pluck an eyebrow hair, it irritates nerve endings in your face. That irritation fires an impulse to the nasal nerve, triggering a sneeze.
No, your heart doesn’t stop when you sneeze.
According to Dr. Richard Conti, past president of the American College of Cardiology, this idea may be because we sometimes get the sense that our heart skips a beat during a sneeze.
It isn’t a good idea to hold in a sneeze.
According to the University of Arkansas, holding in a sneeze may cause physical injury, including:
- hearing loss due to middle and inner ear damage, including a ruptured eardrum (unlikely but not impossible)
- diaphragm injury
- ruptured or weakened blood vessels in your brain
- ruptured blood vessels in your eyes
You can sneeze with your eyes open, but you’ll have to make a conscious effort to do so. That’s because you’re overriding an autonomic reflex that closes your eyes when you sneeze.