What Really Happens To Your Heart When You Sneeze

Those few seconds spent in limbo between the urge to sneeze and the physical act of sneezing can feel like an eternity. In the moments just before a sneeze may or may not come, it can feel like your entire body tenses up — almost as if everything's come to a sudden halt from your chest to your shoulders to your heart. Despite how it may feel, however, the heart does not actually come to a stop when we sneeze (via Healthline).

Sneezing is our body's way of clearing our nasal airways of unwanted particles such as dust (via MedExpress). Dr. Tim Mynes, an emergency medicine physician at MedExpress Urgent Care, explains that the kinds of irritants our body reacts to can go far beyond just the typical dust or pollen. "These other triggers can range from dirt, debris, and even nasal sprays, to sudden exposure to bright light, nose trauma, or breathing cold air," he noted.

So how exactly does a sneeze work?

Sneezing causes changes in blood flow which causes our heart rate to slow down

When we first experience irritation, we react by taking a big intake of breath. In doing so, pressure builds up in the lungs and our vocal cords close shut. This action also slows the rate of blood flow to the heart. When releasing a sneeze, our vocal cords reopen and air rapidly shoots through our nasal passageways, releasing the pent-up pressure in our chest and increasing the rate of blood flow back to the heart. In order to keep up with the changes in blood flow, our heartbeat will also change (via UAMS Health). So while our heart rate may temporarily slow during a sneeze, it does not come to a full stop.

The terrifying myth of our hearts stopping when we sneeze is thought to have stemmed from superstition (via Library of Congress). Our response of "Bless you" when someone around us sneezes may be due to the ancient belief that sneezing could cause one's soul to be released from their body. By blessing the person, this kept them safe from losing their own spirit as well as from releasing any lurking evil spirits onto those around them. 

If you're still worried about how much sneezing is too much sneezing, consider the record held for the longest sneezing fit in the world, which lasted 976 days (via BBC). Knowing that, if your sneezing fits only come around once in a while, chances are you're all clear, but if you are concerned, you should contact your healthcare provider for assurance.