AskDefine | Define sternutation

Dictionary Definition

sternutation n : a symptom consisting of the involuntary expulsion of air from the nose [syn: sneeze, sneezing]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. a sneeze; sneezing, especially as a symptom

Extensive Definition

A sneeze (or sternutation) is a semi-autonomous, convulsive expulsion of air from the lungs at a minimum speed of 150 kph. Sneezing is usually caused by foreign particles irritating the nasal mucosa, but can more rarely be caused by sudden exposure to bright light or a full stomach. Sneezing is popularly considered to help spread disease in many cultures.


Sneezing occurs when a foreign particle passes through the nasal hairs or sufficient external stimulants reach the nasal mucosa. This triggers the release of histamines, which irritate the nerve cells in the nose, resulting in signals being sent to the brain to initiate the sneeze. The brain then relates this initial signal and creates a large opening of the nasal cavity, resulting in a powerful release of air and bioparticles. The reason behind the particularly powerful nature of a sneeze is attributed to its involvement of not simply the nose and mouth, but numerous organs of the upper body – it is a reflectory response that involves the muscles of the face, throat, and chest.
Up to 37 percent of individuals have a genetic trait which causes sneezing triggered by sudden exposure to bright light, particularly that of the Sun, as well as the customary irritation of the mucosa – a response known as the photic sneeze reflex.
A rarer alternative trigger, in some individuals, is the fullness of the stomach immediately after a large meal. This is known as snatiation and is regarded a medical disorder passed along genetically as an autosomal dominant trait.
The speed of release has been the source of much speculation, with the most conservative estimates placing it around 150 kilometers/hour (42 meters/second) or roughly 95 mph (135 feet/second), and the highest estimates -such as the JFK Health World Museum in Barrington, Illinois- which propose a speed as fast as 85% of the speed of sound, corresponding to approximately 1045 kilometers per hour (290 meters/second) or roughly 650 mph (950 feet/second).

Tips to reduce sneezing

Some significant tips to reduce sneezing is to keep pets out of the house to avoid animal dander; replace filters for furnace; place air filtration devices in the house; and stay away from agricultural zones.


While generally harmless in healthy individuals, sneezes are capable of spreading disease through the potentially infectious aerosol droplets that they can expel, which commonly range from 0.5 to 5 µm in diameter. About 40,000 such droplets can be produced by a single sneeze.


Some common English onomatopoeias for the sneeze sound are achoo, atchoo, achew, and atisshoo, with the first syllable corresponding to the sudden intake of air, and the second to the sound of the sneeze.
A similar linguistic approach has been taken with several other languages; in French, the sound "Atchoum!" is used; in Finnish "Atsiuh!"; in Swedish "Atjo"; in Hebrew "Apchi!"; in German "Hatschie!"; in Hungary "Hapci!"; in Polish, "Apsik!"; in Turkish, "Hapşu!"; in Italian, "Etciù!"; in Spanish "¡Achú!" or "¡Achís!"; in Portuguese, "Atchim!"; in Romanian "Hapciu!" and in Japanese, "Hakushon!". In Cypriot Greek, the word is "Apshoo!", incidentally also the name of a village, which is the cause of much mirth locally.
In Howards End, by E.M. Forster, a sneeze in polite society is "a-tissue" - a nice allusion to its respective remedy.

Beliefs and Cultural Aspects

In the Hellenistic cultures of Classical Antiquity, sneezes were believed to be prophetic signs from the gods. In 410 BC, for instance, the Athenian general Xenophon gave a dramatic oration exhorting his fellow soldiers to follow him to liberty or to death against the Persians. He spoke for an hour motivating his army and assuring them of a safe return to Athens until a soldier underscored his conclusion with a sneeze. Thinking that this sneeze was a favorable sign from the gods, the soldiers bowed before Xenophon and followed his command. Another divine moment of sneezing for the Greeks occurs in the story of Odysseus. When Odysseus returns home disguised as a beggar and talks with his waiting wife Penelope, she says to Odysseus, not knowing to whom she speaks, that "[her husband] will return safely to challenge her suitors"". At that moment, their son sneezes loudly and Penelope laughs with joy, reassured that it is a sign from the gods.
In Europe, principally around the early Middle Ages, it was believed that one's life was in fact tied to one's breath - a belief reflected in the word "expire" (originally meaning "to exhale") gaining the additional meaning of "to come to an end" or "to die". This connection, coupled with the significant amount of breath expelled from the body during a sneeze, had likely led people to believe that sneezing could easily be fatal. This theory, if proven conclusively, could in turn explain the reasoning behind the traditional "God bless you" response to a sneeze, the origins of which are currently unclear. (see "Traditional Responses To A Sneeze" below for alternative explanations)
In certain parts of Eastern Asia, particularly in Japanese culture, a sneeze without an obvious cause was generally perceived as a sign that someone was talking about the sneezer at that very moment. In China and Japan, for instance, there is a superstition that if you talk behind someone's back, the person in question will sneeze; as such, the sneezer can tell if something good is being said (one sneeze), something bad is being said (two sneezes in a row), or if this is a sign that they are about to catch a cold (multiple sneezes).
Similarly, in Nepal, sneezers are believed to be remembered by someone at that particular moment.
In Indian culture, especially in northern parts of India, it has been a common superstition that a sneeze taking place before the start of any work was a sign of impending bad interruption. It was thus customary to pause in order to drink water or break any work rhythm before resuming the job at hand in order to prevent any misfortune from occurring.
The practice among certain Islamic cultures, in turn, has largely been based on various Prophetic traditions and the teachings of Muhammad. An example of this is Al-Bukhaari's narrations from Abu Hurayrah that the Islamic prophet once said: When one of you sneezes, let him say, "Al-hamdu-Lillah" (Praise be to Allah), and let his brother or companion say to him, "Yarhamuk Allah" (May Allah have mercy on you). If he says, "Yarhamuk-Allah", then let [the sneezer] say, "Yahdeekum Allah wa yuslihu baalakum" (May Allah guide you and rectify your condition).

Traditional Responses to a Sneeze

In English-speaking countries, a common response to a sneeze by those around is "God bless you", or more commonly just "Bless you". The origins and purpose of this tradition are unknown, and several competing explanations have been proposed over time; (1) Preventing the soul from departing one's body, as explained in the "Beliefs and Cultural Aspects" section above; (2) An effort to prevent possible death due to a lethal disease such as the plague pandemics of the fourteenth century; (3) It was believed that when one sneezed, a bad spirit was able enter the body, and as such, one should be blessed. Today, it is said mostly in the spirit of good manners.
In various other cultures, words referencing good health or a long life are used instead of "Bless you".
  • In Albanian, one says shëndet (shuhn-det).
  • In Arabic, (Levantine Arabic) the response is صحة (Sahha), which likely evolved from the word صحة (Sihha), meaning "health", or نشوة (Nashweh) which means "ecstasy". The response is either thank you شكرا (Shukran) or تسلم (Tislam/Taslam) which means "may you be kept safe".
  • In Armenian, one says առողջություն (aroghjootyoon).
  • In Azeri, sneezing is usually followed by the response Sağlam ol, which means "be healthy"
  • In Dutch, one usually says Gezondheid (literally translated as "health") or Proost (which means "cheers", see below).
  • In Chinese, one says 不好意思 (bù hǎo yì si) (Standard Mandarin) or 唔好意思 (Standard Cantonese), meaning "excuse me" or "sorry".
  • In Estonian, Terviseks, which means "[to your] health".
  • In Finnish, Terveydeksi, which also means "[to your] health".
  • In French, after the first sneeze, one says à tes souhaits which means "to your desires". If the same person sneezes again, the second response is à tes amours, which means "to your loves."
  • In German, Gesundheit ([to your] "Health") is occasionally said after a sneeze.
  • In Hebrew, one says לבריאות (labri'ut/livri'ut), meaning "for (the) health".
  • In Hungarian, one says Egészségedre!, which means "[to your] health".
  • In Icelandic, one says Guð hjálpi þér! ("God help you!"). There is also an old custom to respond three times to three sneezes like so: Guð hjálpi þér ("God help you"), styrki þig ("strengthen you"), og styðji ("and support").
  • In Italian, one says Salute, which means "[to your] health".
  • In Japanese, a sneezer might apologize for the outburst, by saying すみません (Sumimasen) or 失礼しました (Shitsurei shimashita), meaning "excuse me".
  • In Kyrgyz, one says Акчуч! [aqˈʧuʧ] (which may be based on an onomatopœia of the sound of a sneeze, like English "atchoo" discussed above), to which one may respond Ракмат!, meaning "thank you", if the person who said "акчуч" is liked.
  • In Lithuanian, one says Į sveikatą, which means "to your health". And person which sneezes answer Ačiū that translates as "Thank you".
  • In Maltese, one says Evviva, which comes from the Latin for "he/she is alive!".
  • In Norway, Sweden and Denmark, one says Prosit - Latin for "may it advantage (you)".
  • In Persian, if the sneeze is especially dramatic, Afiat bahsheh (عافیت باشه) is said.
  • In Polish, Na zdrowie ([to your] "Health") is said after a sneeze as is Sto lat ([I wish you] a hundred years [of health]).
  • In European Portuguese one says Santinho, which means "Little Saint", while in Brazilian Portuguese, one says Saúde, which means "[to your] health".
  • In Romanian, one says Sănătate ("[to your] health") or Noroc ("[to your] luck").
  • In Russian, the appropriate response is будь здоров(а) which means "be healthy." For sneezer it is polite to reply спасибо meaning "thank you."
  • In Serbian, Na zdravlje (almost always pronounced nazdravlje) ([to your] "Health") is said after a sneeze. For sneezer it is polite to reply Hvala meaning "thank you."
  • In Slovak, Na zdravie ([to your] "Health") is said after a sneeze. For sneezer it is polite to reply Ďakujem meaning "thank you."
  • In Somali, one says Jir, which means "Live Long".
  • In Spanish, one says Salud, which means "[to your] health" After a second or third sneeze, one says, "dinero" and "amor", meaning "money" and "love," respectively. Also, it is quite common to say Jesus after a sneeze, because its onomatopoeic resemblance and also for the same reason as when saying "God bless you".
  • In Tamil, one says Nooru aayisu for the first time, which means "(Have a life of) 100 years", for the second time it would be Theerga-aayisu which means "(Have) a Long life" and for the third time it would be Poorna-aayisu which means "(Have) a healthy long life".
  • In Telugu, particularly around the India province of Andhra Pradesh, the phrase is Chiranjeeva, which translates to "(May you be blessed with a) Life without death".
  • In Turkish, a sneezer is always told to Çok Yaşa, i.e. "Live Long", which in turn receives a response of either Sen De Gör ("[and I hope that] you see it") or Hep Beraber ("all together"). This is to indicate the sneezer's wish that the person wishing them a long life also has a long life so they can "live long" "all together". For more polite circles, one might say Güzel Yaşayın, i.e. "[May You] Live Beautifully", which may be countered with a Siz de Görün ("[And may You] witness it").
  • In Vietnamese, the response is traditionally Sống lâu, i.e. "(Be) 100 years old" which, like "Bless You", an abbreviation of "Wish you a long life of a hundred years."



External links

sternutation in Arabic: عطس
sternutation in Catalan: Esternut
sternutation in Danish: Nys
sternutation in German: Niesen
sternutation in Spanish: Estornudo
sternutation in French: Éternuement
sternutation in Indonesian: Bersin
sternutation in Italian: Starnuto
sternutation in Hebrew: עיטוש
sternutation in Dutch: Niezen
sternutation in Japanese: くしゃみ
sternutation in Norwegian: Nysing
sternutation in Polish: Kichanie
sternutation in Portuguese: Espirro
sternutation in Quechua: Achhi
sternutation in Russian: Чихание
sternutation in Simple English: Sneeze
sternutation in Finnish: Aivastaminen
sternutation in Swedish: Nysning
sternutation in Yiddish: סניז
sternutation in Chinese: 噴嚏
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