Being a girl who’s had seasonal allergies my whole life, I am used to sneezing. I sneeze all the time, and my poor friends feel obligated to say “bless you” every ten seconds. When I was in elementary school, all the buzz was about the fact that if you were somehow able to keep your eyes open while you sneeze, your eyeballs would pop out of their sockets. Being a naive elementary schooler, of course I believed them. But the question is, were they right?
On April 30, 1882, a story was published in the New York Times, claiming that a woman’s eyeball burst out of its socket (known as eyeball subluxing) after a sneezing fit in a street car. She claimed to be suffering intense pain since the accident (NBC News). This, however, is an urban legend.
Some people can naturally keep their eyes open while they sneeze. Others aren’t able to do it naturally, but it is possible pry your eyes open with your fingers while you sneeze. Neither have been reported to cause problems to the eyes. Optometrist Bert Moritz of the Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, Wis., explained that “six extra-ocular muscles firmly hold the eye in the socket, making it almost impossible for eyeball subluxing” (Moritz). There is actually no physical mechanism involved in a sneeze that could make your eyes pop out. There is only a small build of blood pressure behind the eyes during a sneeze, but not enough to dislodge your eyes (Wellmont Health System).
But then the question remains, if we aren’t clamping our eyes shut to keep our eyeballs in place, then why are we? Well, it’s actually due to an involuntary reflex that occurs just the same as when your leg swings forward from the physician tapping your knee. Right before you sneeze, your brain sends a signal to your eye muscles, making them shut tight. According to some, this is to protect the eyes from the stuff that is getting sneezed out, and according to others, it just happens for no reason whatsoever (Wonderopolis).
All-in-all, whatever the reason may be for shutting our eyes when we sneeze, at least we can find peace knowing that we won’t risk losing our eyeballs during allergy season!