As someone who grew up in a family of boisterous sneezers, I know exactly how disruptive a poorly timed sneeze can be. Of course, it’s difficult to resent a person who has just had an involuntary response triggered. A sneeze is never anyone’s fault, right? Still, if you’re open to learning how to sneeze quietly, you’ll see that there are plenty of ways to control the volume of noise you produce.
After all, does anyone like being on the receiving end of the kind of attention that comes from sneezing at an inopportune moment? What if you do it during a business meeting or an important test?
There are many other occasions where silence is similarly important, like weddings or wakes. On the one hand, letting out a thunderous blast in the middle of a solemn occasion would probably be considered rude. On the other hand, it’s not as though holding a sneeze in would do you any good, either.
Blocking a sneeze entirely by pinching your nose has been known to cause blood vessels in your eyes, ears, and nose to pop. But we’ll talk about that later. For now, let’s start with the basics.
Why Do We Sneeze?
Sneezing is a reflexive, mostly involuntary action that results in the removal of irritants from our respiratory system. Once the pollutants make their way into our noses, they trigger a reaction that causes our chest muscles to contract and our throats to relax.
Contrary to popular belief, sneezing doesn’t make your heart stop or skip a beat. If it feels like it has, that’s just because of the strength of the chest contraction that expelled the air from your lungs.
While we’re setting the record straight, I should also dispel the myth that your eyes can pop out if you keep them open during a sneeze. The blood pressure behind the eyes may increase, but it’s nowhere near strong enough to dislodge your eyes. So feel free to try to keep your peepers open wide while sneezing — if you can!
Now, I should mention the other things that make some people sneeze. A sneeze can be triggered by all kinds of strong stimuli. For example, some people sneeze because of bright lights, tickling, dark chocolate, or strong perfume.
In any case, the resulting expulsion of air carries with it saliva and mucus at speeds of about 100 miles per hour. To make matters worse, the mixture could also contain about 100,000 viruses and bacteria.
What Affects the Volume of a Sneeze?
In my inexpert opinion, loud sneezing is generally annoying because it makes us think that the person didn’t cover their mouth to prevent their many thousands of bacteria from bursting forth. But, if we’re honest, even if they cover their mouth, some people are simply loud sneezers.
According to some sources, the average man sneezes at a volume of 90 decibels, measured from two feet away. For comparison, that’s about the same amount of noise you might get from really loud hair dryers or lawnmowers.
Still, several factors may contribute to the volume of noise, including:
- The size of a person’s nostrils
- The positioning of their mouth
- Their lung capacity
- The amount of air they took in just before the sneeze
So just going by these things, there are certain steps you could take to decrease the amount of noise you make while sneezing. Obviously, you can’t change the shape of your nostrils or your general lung capacity. However, you can avoid the huge air intake that usually precedes a deafening sneeze.
Additionally, you could keep your mouth only slightly agape, not completely closed. And that finally brings us to the point of this guide!
How to Sneeze Quietly: Helpful Tips
When it comes to preventing loud sneezes, there are two avenues you can take. On the one hand, you could muffle the sound. On the other, you could try to nip the sneeze in the bud, as long as you’re not cutting it off once it’s already underway.
As we have established, at that point, it’s best to let it come out. Either way, the following list includes tips that can be helpful no matter which method you opt for.
1. Clench Your Jaw
As mentioned, the position of your mouth is only one of the factors that determine the volume of sound produced by your sneeze. The more open your mouth is, the louder the sneeze will be.
However, you can’t just clamp your lips shut — that usually results in even more explosive sneezes. What’s more, it can cause pressure buildup in your sinuses, resulting in a headache around your eyes following the sneeze.
Still, if you want to decrease the volume of noise by making your mouth smaller, all you have to do is clench your jaw while keeping your lips relaxed. The air will escape even with your teeth closed, but it won’t produce such a deafening sound.
2. Hold Your Breath Right Before Sneezing
Holding your breath is usually a good way to prevent a sneeze from coming out. However, you’d have to time it just right,which many people find difficult. If your sneezes often catch you by surprise, you probably won’t know when to implement many of the tips in this guide.
The key is to take a breath as soon as you feel that tickle in your nose. If possible, try not to inhale too deeply, as that may produce an even louder sneeze. After about ten seconds, the need to sneeze will have gone away, and you’ll be able to breathe normally again.
Still, there are ways to hurt yourself even with this trick. To avoid that, make sure you’re not pinching your nose or pressing your lips shut. Again, that could result in burst blood vessels.
3. Cover Your Nose and Mouth
As always, one of the easiest ways to cover up any noise is to muffle it with fabric. In this case, you have several options, including your clothing, tissues, and handkerchiefs.
The last thing I want to see is people using their hands to muffle a sneeze! After all, they might use those hands to greet someone mere seconds later. Therefore, you should at least sneeze into your shoulder or the crook of your elbow, if no other options are available. However, I understand why you might think of that as unsanitary as well.
In fact, out of the choices I’ve listed, most people find tissues to be the most convenient and sanitary. They’re portable, cheap, and, most importantly, disposable. But, if your goal is noise suppression, you might have better luck with thicker handkerchiefs.
Whichever you end up using, make sure to press your hands around both your mouth and nose. Covering only one won’t cut it!
4. Apply Pressure to Your Upper Lip
If you’ve ever watched someone sneeze in a cartoon, you’ve probably seen this tip in action. A character will start gearing up for a sneeze, inhaling more and more air until someone helpfully sticks a finger under their nose. It may be a funny visual gag, but it’s also an effective treatment! Unfortunately, it takes more than pressing a finger under your nose to stop a sneeze.
The neural network that detects the presence of irritants in your nose and throat and triggers a sneeze has a pretty impressive span. It covers most of your face and even has a significant branch ending at the bottom of your nose. So as silly as it may seem, applying pressure to your upper lip can lessen the intensity of a sneeze. But what’s the reasoning behind this?
Well, the gist of it is that by stimulating the same neural network that detects the irritants in need of expulsion, you’d be distracting your brain. You’d be using the same principles that make you rub your knee right after bumping it into the coffee table.
If you’re curious about this effect, you can get more information about it in this video. It also explains the following tip on my list.
5. Press Your Tongue Against the Roof of Your Mouth
If you’re unable to use your hands to press the area between your upper lip and your nose, there are other ways to stimulate the neural network I just mentioned. Pressing your tongue against the roof of your mouth is one of them. Alternatively, you could try tickling the roof of your mouth with your tongue.
Once again, you can use this tip in combination with some of the other ones I’ve mentioned. If you can’t use your hands, just clench your jaw, press your tongue up, and hope for the best.
6. Pinch the Bridge of Your Nose
As I have previously explained, you should never completely plug your nose when you feel a sneeze coming on. Pinching your nostrils can have some pretty dire consequences, especially if you combine it with poor timing. If you do it right as you start sneezing, it can result in anything from burst blood vessels and ruptured eardrums to larynx fractures and bladder control issues.
Fortunately, there are a few adjustments you can make if you want to do it right. Don’t hold your nostrils. Instead, pinch the middle of your nose, right at the top of your septal cartilage.
You should still be able to breathe through your nose, though you’ll notice less airflow. That is exactly what will make your sneeze quieter — or prevent it entirely.
Is It Better to Sneeze Quietly or Stop a Sneeze in Its Tracks?
With any luck, the tips I’ve shared will help you lower the volume of your sneeze or even stop it entirely. But which of those two would be the better outcome?
Well, as we have established, sneezing is an involuntary action that’s meant to flush out irritants. So unless you’re sneaking up on someone, and you need to avoid discovery at all costs — I suggest that you just go for it.