Sneezing is caused by various factors such as allergic reaction to pollen, mold, dander and dust, corticosteroid inhalation from some nose sprays, and other nasal irritants like powder. It can also be a symptom of viral infections like common colds or flu or drug withdrawal. It occurs due to the semi-involuntary convulsive expulsion of air from the lungs through the nose and mouth. Once a sneeze is released from the body at an average speed of 150 km per hour, one can expect to hear different opinions as to why such a natural body response took place or what could consequently happen. You will be surprised by how diverse these interpretations are.
Modern ‘Scientific’ Myth: Sneezing can make your Heart Stop
Many people felt like their heart stopped beating at the time they sneezed. The ‘stopped heart’ phenomenon is actually brought about by the change in heartbeat. This is actually caused by the pressure or forcefulness created in the chest. The same thing occurs when one coughs.
This notion can be rooted from the belief of people in Europe, especially during the early Middle Ages, that one’s life is tied to one’s breath. This backed up the concept that when one expels air through a sneeze, one’s life is shortened. Sneezing was deducted to be an incontrollable situation that can lead to sudden fatality.
Ancient Greek Belief: Sneezing is a prophetic sign from the Gods
There were two remarkable instances that might explain such belief. One was in 410 BC, when General Xenophon gave an hour-long motivational speech to his army prior to attacking the Persians. The soldiers bowed before the general and followed his command only until when one of them sneezed. The others thought this was a favorable sign from the Gods that they could really be victorious and be back to their Athenian homes safe and sound.
The legendary Odysseus holds the other reason why sneezing was venerated in Greece. It happened when he disguised himself as a beggar and went home to his wife Penelope. She talked to him, without knowing this was her beloved, and said that her husband would return to challenge her suitors. At this pronouncement, their son sneezes loudly, which made Penelope think it was a reassuring sign from the Gods.
Select Asian Cultures: Sneeze can be a Bad or Good Omen
Some Eastern Asian cultures such as the Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese believed that a sneeze is a sign that other people may be talking about the sneezer at that same moment. One sneeze means good things are being said, two in a row – negative, three in a row – someone is in love with the sneezer, and multiple – looming illness, especially colds. Nepalese and Pakistani cultures also have this similar belief.
Responses to sneezing also have intricate derivations. The common response “God bless you” sprang because of the idea that sneezing can be fatal. It was also associated with the impression that sneezing was a gift to humans to drive out the evil spirits.
The Islamic tradition had notable explanations about sneezing, too. One was reflected in Al-Bukhaari’s narration of what the prophet Mohammad said. The person who sneezed must say, “Praise be to Allah,” to which his or her companion must respond with “May Allah have mercy on you” or “May Allah guide you and rectify your condition.”