Why we sneeze in 3’s

Sneezing in public has become a big no-no. With the pandemic raging, we shudder if someone coughs or sneezes near us.

People shrink away if you exhibit any of the symptoms of Covid-19. But sometimes it is just an innocent sneeze.

I wondered, what causes a sneeze and what happens inside your body when a sneeze sneaks up on you?

Sneezing can be triggered by irritants such as dust, illness, emotion, and even sunlight. While the exact reason for the sneezin’ is different for every scenario, the mucus membranes in your nose and throat are to blame, because they control the sneeze response.

When you sneeze, your chest muscles forcefully compress your lungs, which send a burst of air upwards.The throat shuts tight, which then sends the air shooting through your nose at speeds up to 160 km/h. That jet of air is filled with 2,000 to 5,000 germ-laden droplets.

Have you noticed that we often sneeze in threes? With its great force and velocity, a single sneeze is sometimes enough to clear an irritant out of your system, but a triple sneeze happens when we need to get deeper irritants out.

According to Laura Geggel, on LiveScience.com, the first sneeze likely breaks up the irritant, while the second brings it into the nose, and the third shoots it out.

Geggel says sneezing is unique from person to person like our individual laughs are. What causes you to burst out in chuckles is likely different for someone else, which is also true with sneezing, though multiple sneezes are likely all caused when your body is trying harder than normal to clear your airways.

There are many interesting superstitions surrounding sneezes. For example, while vacationing in Costa Rica, many years before the pandemic, I sneezed twice at the breakfast table and the waiter sneezed a third time for me. When I enquired, he told me that the three sneezes were for the Christian Trinity … Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Basically, it was unlucky to only sneeze twice without completing the trinity.

Why do people say, “God bless you,” when you sneeze? Some say that Pope Gregory the Great started doing so during the Plague of Justinian, in the hopes that people wouldn’t die after sneezing.

Some people thought you might expel your soul when you sneezed, and saying “bless you” was a way of keeping the devil from taking your soul. And then there are those who thought your heart would stop when you sneezed and saying “God bless you” would keep you from dying.

So if you feel a sneeze coming on while you are grocery shopping, keep your mask on and do what the kids are taught in school: sneeze into your elbow. But don’t be surprised if people give you a sharp look before they back away. These days they aren’t afraid that your soul is escaping… they just don’t want to share your germs.