When someone around us sneezes, we think the person is spreading germs. It's true, sneezed air contains 100,000 or more viruses and bacteria that can reach 93 mph and saturate the nearby 3- to 5-foot locale.
However, sneezing also keeps our bodies safe, according to a 2014 Health Fitness Revolution article (www.healthfitnessrevolution.com). I should remember this, for I and many other people have periodic sneeze attacks of a dozen or so violent outbursts during a several-minute episode.
My sneezes, when they occur unexpectedly, are so loud that our cats bolt in terror from the porch steps to the nearest barn. Sometimes, the open windows OK, I may have exaggerated just a bit, but my wife, Marilyn, can attest that I have frightened her a few times and our house has shaken.
Perhaps I inherited the tendency to sneeze explosively from my father. At least a few times Dad sneezed so forcefully in church that his eruptions echoed throughout the entire building.
Usually a ripple of laughter reverberated from our pew throughout the congregation and the priest would have to briefly cease saying Mass until the attendees settled down. I admired my father's humongous sneezes, for it made my having to stay quiet in church as an overactive youngster more tolerable.
Sneezing protects us by clearing our nasal and bronchial passages and our lungs of dust, pollens and other irritating substances. Sensors in our noses and sinuses detect the irritants and send a signal to the tiny hairlike cilia that line our nasal passages to expel them.
The cilia communicate through nerves to our brain and thence to our chest muscles to contract vigorously and then to relax, which forces air, saliva and mucus from our passageways and our throat outward through our nose and mouth.
While sneezing helps us expel potentially harmful substances, the benefits don't extend to the people proliferated by our emissions. They may inhale our contaminated air and accumulate our germs on their clothing and bodies, and possibly contract illnesses we harbor.
Sneezing is usually beneficial for our health except when standing behind a cow as she explodes on both ends. Unlike cows, humans quickly learn to contract muscles that control certain bodily orifices so we don't have to change our clothes after a hearty sneeze. Sorry if I'm being a little explicit here.
A friend, who shall remain unnamed, told me the following story:
While driving her sporty Mustang with its retractable roof open, a semi-truckload of cattle pulled alongside her vehicle at an intersection as both drivers waited for the red stoplight to switch to green. You experienced cattle people already know what is coming.
You're right, a cow with her rear aimed toward my friend's open-topped convertible coughed-actually sneezed-and unloaded a mixture of green sauce and clear liquid through the cattle-trailer's slats onto the floor and the front and rear seats of my friend's Mustang. Sneezing may have helped the cow but not my friend, who had to replace her car seats and floor carpet.
Suppressing sneezes, says Health Fitness Revolution, can cause nose bleeds and expand our blood vessels dangerously. Curtailing a powerful sneeze can even rupture our eardrums.
The sneeze reflex can be a life-saver. Most people familiar with livestock know that tickling the nostrils of a newborn calf that isn't breathing can stimulate a powerful inhalation and trigger a sneeze, after which normal respiration occurs.
Yet, we don't sneeze when we sleep, for the nerves that trigger the sneeze reflex also diminish their activity when we snooze. That's why people with persistent sneezing are able to get some rest.
People who sneeze repetitively and uncontrollably for weeks on end are rare, so they may become the subjects of media attention. However, some people may sneeze several times in response to certain stimuli, such as exposure to bright sunshine, vigorous exercise, certain smells and even sex. Who would have thought that some of our favorite activities can trigger such reactions!
That's the way we are made. Iguanas have it worse, for they are the sneeziest animals, according to WebMD (www.webmd.com) in a 2015 post.
Newborn humans sneeze, as well as most animals (except whales, dolphins and a few other mammals), including birds, says LiveScience, but not all amphibians and reptiles. A few organisms even lower on the biological totem pole also sneeze, such as some sponges.
We shouldn't worry if we make a scene when sneezing. Covering our noses and mouths with our arm or hands does little to reduce the spread of whatever germs we carry. Infectious bacteria and viruses are all around us anyhow.
Our biological resistance to infections is more important than avoiding people with the sniffles, so we might as well learn to live with sneezing.
But don't stand behind a cow that sneezes.