Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Can a sneeze be fatal?

Sneezing is the nose's reaction to a nasal irritation. It is a perfectly normal occurrence, but many people believe that it can be harmful and deserves much more attention. This belief might stem from the 6th century, when the Black Plague killed half of the population of Europe. Sneezing was one of the symptoms of the Black Plague, and indicated that the person would die soon. As a result, people would say "bless you" or "God bless you", in the hopes that the person would not die from the infection. Many would say it because it was a common belief that when a person sneezed, their heart would stop momentarily and they would essentially be dead for a couple of seconds.
Although it appears that the heart has indeed stopped during a sneeze, this is actually not true. It does affect the cardiovascular system, but the heart never stops; it causes a change in pressure in the chest. When you inhale before the sneeze, the pressure increases and as you exhale forcefully, the pressure rapidly drops, which affects the heart's rhythm. There might be a delay between beats, but the heart has not actually stopped. The delay might be a cause for concern for some, but it is a common occurance that is rarely harmful.

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