What Your Sneeze Says About You

from Knight Ridder

Sooner or later you're going to sneeze.

And what with allergies, cold and flu season and furnaces blasting dust through your house like a leaf blower, we're betting on sooner. Ah, well. Or should we say "Achoo"?

But before you reach for a tissue again, ask yourself how much you really know about the noble sneeze? You might know, for instance, that when you do sneeze you spew 100,000 bacteria through the air at better than 100 mph. But did you know that you're also revealing aspects of your personality?

It's true.

So says Patti Wood, spokeswoman of Benadryl, the creator of "The Achoo IQ Quiz."

Wood, who is also a body language expert, combined a sneezing survey of 547 people with three months of "observational" analysis. Then she correlated people's sneezing styles and behaviors with a "well-researched" personality test.

Her conclusion: Even though nearly half the respondents believed their sneeze was spontaneous, most people have a specific sneezing style that closely matches their personality. Here are several styles Wood has analyzed. See which one best matches your personality.

The Enthusiastic Sneezer

Big, lusty and powerful.

WOOD SAYS: "You are a charismatic leader and influencer. You are imaginative and have great 'out of the box' ideas. You are intuitive and can inspire and motivate others. You value your relationships and hold them dear. You welcome new people and new opportunities. You are optimistic and spontaneous. You are open, and people know what you are feeling. You are articulate and enjoy a good conversation, whether it is over the phone, over dinner or out socializing. You are more likely to have sneezes that people notice - big or multiple."

The Nice Sneezer

No showy histrionics or noise levels; would rather hold it back so as not to offend.

WOOD SAYS: "You are warm and friendly and like a relaxed pace. The most important thing in your life is your relationship with others. You will work hard to avoid conflict and get along. You are loyal, calm and dependable. People say you are a good listener, though you sometimes feel interrupted. You are helpful, supportive and nurturing."

The Be-Right Sneezer

A proper, dignified and moderate achoo. Most likely to cover mouth with a tissue or hankie.

WOOD SAYS: "You are careful and accurate. A deep thinker, you always consider things before you speak. You are detailed and precise and catch mistakes that others miss. You have great insights and opinions, but you don't always get a chance to express them. You like to read books that make you think. You like to work by yourself and relax at home because you enjoy solitude. You take your time, play by the rules and wish others would do the same."

The Get-It-Done Sneezer

Bang! Quick and hard. No nonsense.

WOOD SAYS: "You are fast, decisive and to the point. You wish others could do the same. You're efficient and uncomplicated. You do not have to rely on others. You are a leader. You are forceful and commanding and work to get things quickly accomplished. You seek physical exertion. You do not like to be used unfairly by others. You will hold in your sneeze if you can and are more likely to have a big loud sneeze than other types."

But surely those aren't the only kinds of sneezes. Recently, after our own informal analysis, we came up with a few more. What do they say? We'll let you be the judge of that.


Incoming! Hide the women and children. Board up the windows! Get out the Lysol!

Ahh Ahh CHOOOOOOOOOO! (Also known as the Big Bad Wolf Sneeze, or the We-Can-Hear-You-in-the-Next-Area-Code Sneeze).


The sneeze so nice they do it twice. Or three times. Or 12. Sweet sassie malassie! You done now?


Dainty. Genteel. If polite society had an official sneeze, this would be it. A sneeze best performed after eating finger sandwiches and drinking tea with pinkie extended. Sounds like (say it gently and politely, preferably in a high voice) Ahh-tyou!


Whoa! How do you sneeze out of your throat like that?


Two ahhs followed by a muffled internal explosion sometimes accompanied by a mouse squeak. Egads! You're going to blow your eyeballs out doing that.


Ever seen a dog sneeze?


Eeuuww! Get a squeegee. Call the Centers for Disease Control. Ever heard of covering your mouth?


Two sneezes, short and quick. Not three. Not one and done. Two. Every time.


The sneezer's face and entire body freeze for several seconds as the sneeze builds internally before expression.


Five or six ahs followed by...nothing. Well? You going to do it or aren't you?


You know what we're talking about.


Q. What causes a sneeze?

A. In most cases, sneezing is the body's way of expelling an irritant from the nose. It also can be a reaction to allergies. But many other things have been shown to cause people to sneeze, including light (called photic sneezing), combing hair, tweezing eyebrows, rubbing the inner corner of the eyes, overeating, orgasm.

Q. Can you stifle a sneeze?

A. Sometimes you can stop it before it comes. But trying to stop it after it has started can be dangerous.

Q. Does the heart really stop during a sneeze?

A. You'd better hope not! A "stopped" heart is serious stuff. Sneezes are powerful, however. They increase the pressure in your chest and change blood flow. It's possible what people are thinking about when they say a sneeze stops your heart is that an enthusiastic sneeze occasionally may make your heart flutter or skip a beat. But, no, it doesn't stop it - not even momentarily.

Q. What is the speed of a sneeze?

A. No one knows for sure, and scientific estimates vary widely. The most conservative estimators put the velocity of a sneeze at 100 mph. Then again, the JFK Health World Museum in Barrington, Ill., pegs the speed of a sneeze at 630 mph.

Q. What is the world sneezing record?
A. The Guinness Book of World Records' longest sneezing fit is 977 days, comprising more than a million sneezes.

Q. What role did sneezing play in the history of movies?

A. That goes back to Thomas Edison, who copyrighted the first film on Jan. 7, 1894. The quick movie snippet showed Edison's assistant, Fred Ott, sneezing. The title: (what else?) Fred Ott's Sneeze.

Q. Has sneezing been studied much?

A. More than 50 major research papers have been written on it worldwide since 1991, including research into backward sneezing in dogs and turtle sneezing.

Q. Is sneezing dangerous?

A. As a rule, no. It's actually beneficial in removing irritants and clearing the nasal passages. But as with everything, there are exceptions. The medical literature includes instances where a patient damaged his aorta with persistent and violent sneezing.

Q. Is the inability to sneeze dangerous?

A. In India, they apparently think so. Psychology Today reported that while sneezing is seen as healthy there, the inability to sneeze is considered a medical problem known as "asneezia." No joke. The people of India have long used snuff as a way to artificially induce what they see as a lusty and cathartically healthy sneeze.

Q. Do animals sneeze?

A. Most do, said Liz Harmon, general curator for the Kansas City Zoo. Some animals she has seen sneeze include tortoises, tigers, parrots, bears, wolves, gorillas, chimps and orangutans. On the other hand, she has never seen a bird, snake or insect sneeze.

Q. What animal sneezes the most?

A. The iguana, according to reptile experts, sneezes more often and more productively than any other animal. Sneezing is the way they rid their bodies of certain salts that are byproducts of their digestive processes.


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