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May 6, 2012

Experts' Expert: How to lower the volume of a sneeze

Screen Shot 2012-04-15 at 6.26.21 PM

Finally, something useful.

From Beth DeCarbo's March 26, 2012 Wall Street Journal story:


Seems like every workplace has at least one person with a really loud sneeze — a teeth-rattling, ear-splitting, high-velocity explosion. Is it possible for high-decibel sneezers to turn down the volume? For the answer, we turned to Jayakar Nayak, assistant professor of otolaryngology at the Stanford Sinus Center.

Why do we sneeze in the first place?

It's caused by a number of factors, most commonly seasonal allergies, irritants in the air, or colds and flu. But even things like looking at a bright light or having a full stomach can trigger a sneeze. These events stimulate the trigeminal nerve in the nasal cavity, which then sets off a coordinated reflex that goes from your diaphragm all the way up to your brain. A lot of different muscles are involved "to build up pressure and the expulsion force" needed to rid the body of this irritant, Dr. Nayak says.

Why are some sneezers louder than others?

Mainly, individual differences in anatomy, such as lung volume, abdominal strength and trachea size. "Some people may be recruiting more muscles into the violent sneeze response," he says.

So how can a person lower volume?

1. [See graphic up top.] Use a thick handkerchief instead of a tissue. The fabric muffles the sound.

2. Hold your breath right before the onset of a sneeze. That can possibly interrupt the body's coordinated reflex.

3. Cough simultaneously as you sneeze. This also lessens the reflex while decreasing the volume.

4. Clench your teeth and jaw, which suppresses the sound. Keep your lips open to prevent air-pressure buildup.

5. Put your index finger at the base of your nose and push up slightly. (Dr. Nayak calls this the Three Stooges method.) This can suppress a sneeze or reduce its severity.

Should you plug your nose?

Never, ever do this. It closes the airway, creating internal pressure. Medical journals have recorded incidents of larynx fractures, voice changes, ruptured eardrums, damage to soft tissue in the neck, bulging eyeballs, bladder incontinence and more.

May 6, 2012 at 02:01 PM | Permalink


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"recruiting more muscles into the violent sneeze response," is just nice speak for actively trying to control the sneeze. Which is quite silly when you think about it cause it *never* works. As opposed to just letting it happen, where it can be more of a rush of air, which is far quieter.
It's going to happen anyway. So prep for it by having something to sneeze into, and then nobody will see expulsion of snot and saliva that is what your body is trying to achieve with a sneeze. Then there's no reason to (noisily) try curbing the inevitable.

Posted by: warren | May 6, 2012 6:33:58 PM

Wouldn't recommend Number 3 under any circumstances.

Posted by: Jesse | May 6, 2012 6:29:29 PM

Hmmm. I've been a "quiet" sneezer all my life. No screaming, spraying nor startling of the neighbors, just a lady-like stifle, well contained and managed from within. In public, that is.

Granted there's nothing like the red, white and blue, drum roll of hearty sneeze. So satisfying. A person needs to consider the effect the release will have on others.

I've never blown out my eyeballs or eardrums. Never even close.

Posted by: Kay | May 6, 2012 3:41:48 PM

Seems to me that plugging the nose is the most effective long-term resolution. Train the prepubescent and filter out the genetic predisposition.

Draco endorsed!

Posted by: 6.02*10^23 | May 6, 2012 3:32:42 PM

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