21. I Love to Sneeze

by H. W. Moss

I love to sneeze.

It’s exciting and thrilling and enjoyable and verges on the orgasmic. It’s addicting and fun to have five good sneezes in a row, then reach for the tissue because your eyes are watering and your nose needs blowing.

It’s ecstatic.

Wikipedia says a sneeze is usually caused by foreign particles. I beg to differ.

I discovered sneezing on the playground in kindergarten when I looked directly up at the sun and suddenly I knew the warm glow coursing through my body was something I wanted to do again and again.

Miss Betty saw this and warned me not to stare at the sun. So I looked up and looked away and learned how to tease the sneeze out.

Actually, any light source will do. I particularly like the portable lamp attached to my work table. It is usually not on, but when I feel the urge, right there in front of the keyboard, I simply give a quick twist of the switch and within seconds I can explode with that wonderful rapture I have come to love and look forward to.

Yes, spicy jalapeños can cause a sneeze to appear out of nowhere, but the sun is the best inducer of a good burst of air.

I have no allergies, but I’m told ragweed is the cause of many a sneeze. Nor does pollen or leaves of any kind lead me to sneeze. There is a plant called the Sneeze Wort, scientific name Achillea ptarmica, which I have never to my knowledge ever even seen.

The act of sneezing is known scientifically as “sternutation.” The dictionary definition calls a sneeze “sudden and involuntary.” Mine are planned and purposeful. My cousin Mike was a medic in the Army. He said that light stimulating a sneeze is known as “the dazzle reflex” and it is an indication the optic nerves are functioning properly. It is also called “photic” sneezing.

My friend Fran has uncontrolled sneezing. They just start while she’s sitting there working or talking on the phone. I long ago made fun of her and asked why she made these small, brief bursts when a real good sneeze is big and refreshing and expels a lung full of air.

Whenever her fit begins, I start counting to myself. I usually wait until I say six out loud, then however many more she has until they stop. It has become a ritual with us. “Ah-choo, ah-choo.”

Seven. Eight. I believe her record is ten straight ah-choos in a row.

A Washington Post article says a sneeze involves a part of the brain stem called the Medulla. It claims that’s where the “sneeze center” is located. Hmmm. I don’t know about that. Anyway, according to this article the Medulla tells the chest and throat to contract, makes your eyes shut, the palate closes (It does? Well, I’ll be.) and within two or three seconds bacteria filled air shoots out at between 70 and 100 miles per hour.

And that’s what I love! The act of expelation is elative and joyous and all the other adjectives I used in the beginning of this piece.

Scientific American says between ten and thirty-five percent of the population are photic sneezers. The good news is there seem to be no extenuating medical conditions associated with sneezing at the sun.

And just to let you know, Miss Betty, looking up at the sun for brief snatches over the decades has not harmed my eyes. But it has certainly lightened my mood.