Daily Archives: 29 October 2007

Sneeze Etiquette

Now that the clocks have gone back we are officially into “cold” season.  This is time of year where people shut windows and huddle together for warmth.  A time when the common cold is at its most rampant.  With that in mind I though it fitting to address the issue of sneeze etiquette.

How to stop a sneeze

  1. Understand why you sneeze. It isn’t just a useless quirk that your body takes part in just to inconvenience you. In most cases a sneeze is the body’s way of getting rid of stuff in your nose that can cause irritation. In other cases a sneeze is associated with a cold, evacuating about 40,000 infectious and microscopic droplets that would otherwise do you harm. The only physically bad thing about sneezing is the spread of disease, which can be prevented by using a tissue or, if necessary, sneezing into your sleeve. 
  2. Know when not to stop a sneeze. A sneeze, known technically as a sternutation, is a major deal for the body. The typical sneeze removes air from your body at speeds between 100 MPH to 630 MPH (measured by JFK Health World Museum in Barrington, IL), tremendous velocities that can cause serious injury if incorrectly stifled. That’s why you should never try to stop a sneeze that is in progress. For example, do not hold your nose or block your mouth while sneezing. Doing so can cause serious injury. The force and velocity of the average sneeze, if prevented from ejection from the body, can eventually cause hearing loss and damage the blood vessels in your head, especially if you make a habit of stopping a sneeze when it’s already begun. 
  3. Apply one of the following techniques to stop a sneeze, when appropriate. These techniques do not stop sudden, uncontrollable sneezes that sneak up on you without warning. It will only work on those sneezes that you feel coming.
    • Press your tongue behind your two front teeth, where the roof of your mouth meets the gum palate or alveolar ridge. Press hard with your most powerful muscles against your teeth until the tickling sensation dissipates.
    • Pinch the tip of your nose when you feel that first tingle. 
    • If you tend to have long sneezing jags, blow your nose frequently to clear your nostrils of irritants. 
    • Tickle the roof of your mouth with the tip of your tongue when you feel the sneeze coming on. Continue until the urge to sneeze dissipates. This should take 5 to 10 seconds.
    • Put your index and middle fingers out in front of you. Touch your nose with both fingers. Push upwards.
    • Press the top of your upper lip with a finger.
    • Spread the thumb of one hand away from the fingers. Using the sharp edges of the nails on the thumb and index finger of your other hand, pinch the flap of skin between the spread thumb and the fingers.
    • Look at the darkest and largest surface you can find. Examples may include a computer screen that is off, or someone’s black clothing. Imagine yourself slowly moving into the blackness, as if you are zooming into outer space and being enveloped in more and more warm darkness. Focus deeply on imagining this, and the “sneezy feeling” will soon subside. Hint: the better you get at this, the smaller the dark surface will need to be. Also, while trying this, avoid looking or thinking of any lights or similarly bright-colored objects. This will be especially effective if you are prone to the Photic sneeze reflex (see Tips).
    • Think very intensely about the spot right between your eyebrows. Keep imagining that something is touching it until the sneezing feeling subsides.
    • It is often possible to stop a sneeze late in the build up by sucking the tip of your finger. This works right up until the point when you actually initiate the sneeze.

When not to sneeze

  • You should not sneeze when in a sealed room such as a bus or a train carriage.  Doing so merely provides an environment for the many infections that you have expelled to spread to others. 
  • You really should not sneeze directly on the back of someone’s head.  This is considered rude and is likely to irritate the person who is sneezed upon.  If you are unfortunate enough to sneeze on someone by accident then you should apologise in order to have any chance of escaping injury.
  • You should always attempt to avoid sneezing at people.  The sound and vigorous movement of a sneeze attracts attention and you may find yourself the unwilling recipient of “hard states” or “advice”.
  • If you happen to find yourself in a location where a low noise level is socially acceptable please avoid sneezing or leave the location.  Such places include libraries, cinemas, the theatre, art galleries, restaurants, museums and churches.  I’d also add your working environment to this list but this is dependent on your own job.

If you have anything to add please do so now.


Filed under Bad things happen, Modern Etiquette