It is a myth that a person’s heart stops when they sneeze. The heart does not stop, but it may briefly change its rhythm. This poses no threat to a person’s health or well-being.

This article looks at what happens to the heart when a person sneezes. It also explores what causes sneezes, how to avoid sneezing, and how to do it hygienically.

A person sneezing.Share on Pinterest
ediebloom/Getty Images

The heart beats due to electrical signals from the sinus node, a small mass of tissue in the heart’s upper-right chamber, or atria.

As the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences reports, a person’s heart does not stop when they sneeze. This is because sneezing does not affect the electrical signals that control the heart rate.

When a person sneezes, there is a large change of pressure in the chest. There is also a change in blood flow to the heart. These sudden, dramatic changes can affect the heart rate, but the heart does not stop beating.

The myth that a person’s heart stops when they sneeze may stem from the fact that a sneeze can affect the rhythm of the heartbeat.

Before a person sneezes, they inhale deeply, which builds up extra pressure in the chest. As a person exhales during the sneeze, the pressure decreases. This can change the blood flow to the heart, which can affect the heart rate.

These pressure and blood flow changes alter the heart rate slightly. But it returns to normal shortly afterward.

The vagus nerve also plays a role. This nerve travels from the brain to the abdomen. It is responsible for reflex actions, such as sneezing, and it is also a part of the nervous system that controls the heart.

During a sneeze, the built up pressure in the chest can cause the vagus nerve to react and reduce the heart rate.

A sneeze is one of the body’s ways of removing foreign objects and substances from the respiratory tract. This tract includes the nose, throat, and lungs.

A person may inhale something that irritates their respiratory tract, and this can trigger a sneeze. Some of these irritants include dust, spices, and pollen.

Other common causes of sneezing include:

  • The common cold:Sneezing is one of the main symptoms of a cold, which results from a viral infection of the respiratory tract.
  • Allergic rhinitis: If a person comes into contact with an allergen, their nasal tract may become inflamed. This is called allergic rhinitis, and sneezing is a main symptom. Various medications can treat it.
  • Flu:The flu, or influenza, is a respiratory illness resulting from a viral infection.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend following these steps when sneezing:

  • During the sneeze, cover the nose and mouth with a tissue.
  • Throw the tissue in the trash afterward.
  • If no tissue is available, sneeze into the crook of the elbow, not the hands.

The CDC also advises people to wash their hands immediately after blowing their nose, coughing, or sneezing.

A person should wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, at least. If this is not possible, use a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.

Learn more about effective handwashing here.

There are a number of ways to avoid sneezing. A person can:

  • Avoid irritants that cause sneezing: This might involve avoiding environments that have noticeable dust, mold, or pollen. Understanding which specific irritants are problematic can help.
  • Treat allergies: This is important when sneezing results from an allergic reaction. Because avoiding allergens is not always possible, a person might consider carrying an over-the-counter medication, such as antihistamine tablets or a glucocorticosteroid nasal spray.
  • Blowing the nose: Doing this when a sneeze is coming may remove the irritant and prevent the sneeze.
  • Nasal sprays: Some nasal sprays may help prevent sneezing by clearing the sinuses.
  • Pinching the nose: Some people find that this prevents a sneeze.

Learn more about ways to avoid sneezing here.

It is a myth that the heart stops when a person sneezes. For this to be true, sneezing would have to affect the electrical signals that control the heart.

Instead, during a sneeze, there is a large change of pressure in the chest. Sneezes also alter the blood flow to the heart. These changes can briefly alter the heart rate, but it returns to normal shortly afterward.

Common causes of sneezing include viral infections, such as the common cold and flu, as well as allergic reactions and contact with irritants, such as dust and mold.