Bless You and Gesundheit - Why Do We Say This When People Sneeze?

by Jerrico_Usher

Have you ever wondered what bless you and gesundheit means and why people say it? Most people don't know what it's history or meaning is. In this article I'm going to share that!

Sneezing puts out a lot of saliva!!! (you just don't normally see it but you sure feel it when someone across the room sneezes!)

JFK Health World Museum in Barrington Illinois claims that a sneeze can go as fast as 85% of the speed of sound or approximately 630 miles per hour. Conservative estimates are at 130 MPH!

Is sneezing Dangerous? That depends on a lot of different variables but overall, these days, typically the answer is no.

Sneezing is as natural as our body's own white cells protecting us from things that somehow get past our defences (skin, holes in our body like the nose, mouth, even the one part of yoru brain you can see- the eyes!

If you want to know what a sneeze is for, why it happens, and what started the "Bless You" and "Gesundheit" revolution, keep reading. This get's interresting!

(I did a whole lot of research when I myself asked this question!)


Woman About To Sneeze
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Man About To Sneeze
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Why we say Bless You!

Have you ever noticed we walk around all day saying things out of habit and things we learned growing up, but don't know what they mean?

As a kid I asked too many questions, granted, but my thirst for understanding everything I did and even terms I said was too great to ignore.

I drove my parent's bananas with the questions during movies and just about any time I didn't understand something.

I was inquisitive and to this day I'm plagued with the infectious need to learn about my world. I don't let anything slide either.

Questions like:

  • why do we call a coward "yeller' or yellow".
  • Why do we say someone depressed is "Blue"? Why do we say "Bless you and Gesundheit when someone sneezes?


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . Pollen or Allergens can Cause Sneezing . . . . . . . . . . .

Blooming Sneeze Weed
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Learn About The "Black Death" That Started The "Bless You" Revolution!
In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World It Made

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Skulls and Bones
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It Turns out, This Is Due To The Bubonic Plague!

Sneezing is an obvious symptom of one form of the plague.

People would show this symptom just before getting sick and dying.

We say bless you because it was literally said as a blessing much like we tell someone sick to get well soon!

God Bless you was attributed to Pope Gregory the Great, when he said it in the sixth century during the bubonic plague after witnessing someone sneeze.

It used to be in those days when you sneezed people literally thought you were going to die from the plague! We say it now just to be polite but I wonder why the history of this saying was left out?

Gesundheit is a German word and literally means "Health". It entered our language in the early 20th century and was brought to the United States by German-speaking immigrants.
Some Interesting Sneezing Facts:


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Woman About To Sneeze
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Why are sneezes so powerful?

There is more involved than just the nose or dust in the air, pepper, or whatever triggers it.

The nose is just one component in a sneezes trigger system. We sneeze in the first place because the body detects something foreign going in (through the nose) and sneezing is it's "ejection" system.

This happens to protect the body from external threats.

The sneeze is powerful because it has to be!

Depending on how deep the external threat (dust etc...) is in there the sneeze will be more powerful and even contiguous (one right after another until the olfactory thinks it's gone. 

Most of the time you feel that itch just before the moment of "impact".

Sneezing is a reflex response that involves the muscles of the face, throat, and chest.

Some people worry that if your eyes are open that they will pop out of their face!


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Myth Busters: Debunking The Eye Popping Fear

Debunked That Any Damage Could Be Done To Your Eyes From A Sneeze- Quite The Opposite!

I saw a funny episode of Myth busters testing this myth, and it was disproved.

It was proven however that it's almost impossible to keep your eyes open during a sneeze.

This is because the muscles that close your eyes are part of the reflex response.

Did you know that when some people go out into the light it causes them to sneeze?

Sometimes if you cannot quite get yourself to sneeze looking at a light source can help get it out of you.

Mythbusters: Collection 1


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Thomas Edison Movie: Nothing To Sneeze At!

How The Sneeze Was A Conduit To Inventing The Moving Picture (movies)

Thomas Edison Invented The Movie (frames playing in succession to create a "moving image") Based On A Sneeze Recorded!

What's really interesting is how he got the idea for movies in 1888.

Edison was looking at someone sneezing in still sequential images when he realized that by looking at them fast in series you could potentially capture "action" using a series of pictures.

The moving picture machine was actually envisioned from the phonograph technology.

It's interesting that Thomas Edison came up with the idea and yet I've never heard about this.

There's a lot more information available (in each still thus each frame and thus further every split second of "time" or life happening).

Bet you didn't know the sneeze was part of the phenomenon we now take for granted- MOVIES!

I didn't even know (before researching it) that Thomas Edison had anything to do with the invention of the sequential frame succession technology.

This is now known as moving pictures or moving frames (usually a movie is in 30 FPS (Frames per second).

Every second your eyes are actually processing and integrating 30 pictures as you watch TV (more if it's HD but often it's more pixels per frame or a higher definition picture 30 times a second). No wonder watching too much television is "tiring" and makes you feel "lazy!!!" Come to think of it, don't we tend to get pretty hungry sitting there?

Maybe it's the food commercials, but I tend to think it's more about the brain needing nutrients to keep the chemical electrical activity going. You can actually get more tired thinking than exercising! (they say you burn more calories thinking than physical activity, given the two are at the same density of action)- but that's another article!

When I Sneeze In Succession, It Feels Like My Heart Is Going To Stop!

Human Heart, c.1979 (red with veins)
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That's not your heart stopping, that's the interruption of your oxygen flow

Your body tends to tense up when you sneeze (the power has to come from somewhere right?)  and if you sneeze in "serial" (over and over again in succession) then you can find yourself in perpetual "tension" where "catching" a breath is hard just by the redundancies and close proximity of each sneeze.

The heart may stop only if the sneeze stops your oxygen flow too much but that would require something like sneezing over and over for 30 minutes or something crazy like that.
You'd likely pass out first then return to a "relaxed" state and breathing normally.

A sneeze can travel at 100+ miles an hour

I'm thinking it's solid enough to gain momentum and get out pretty far. If you have anything in your mouth it's propelled like a cannon (or hits the back of your teeth-outch)!

Germs survive this and tend to get "picked up" by anyone near or who makes contact with them. How far out it “fly’s” is not the issue, it's really bad because it's “firing” thousands of "spit" droplets into the air like that scene on Braveheart with all the spears flying in the air or on the movie 300 when the same thing happened.

In one country, someone commented, the claim is that when Jesus resurrected a baby and when the baby came to, she sneezed. This then became passed down wisdom that a sneeze meant “new life”.

This would fall into the category of “health” the meaning of the word Gesundheit, and also the ideal that it means, or the term used as well, “Bless You”. A new life IS a blessed soul!

Another explanation states that the expression “Bless You” could have originated from a superstition passed down over the ages.

Some believe saying “God Bless You” comes from an ancient story told that states that man once thought the soul of a person was actually in the form of “air” and resided in a persons body, primarily the head itself.

The sneeze was thought to expel the soul from the body accidentally, unless God blessed you, preventing this from happening.

There is often a pause and a moment of awareness that your about to sneeze which gave you time to stop it.

This blessing was for the person about to sneeze and anyone around them. This is, however, just a superstition, a myth but an interesting idea/story!

The scientific explanation makes the most sense to me and explains what the body does.
The immune system is constantly trying to break down  things that somehow got in there and shouldn’t be (white cells break down toxins in the body and “invaders”).

When possible, the body also has other defense mechanisms in place to protect you.
The most efficient for something entering the olfactory (nose) is to get rid of it before the body has to use up resources to break it down or worse, something that may not be so easy to rid the body of!

A sneeze is often taken for granted but every time you sneeze keep in mind- your body just had your back!

Integrated Comments

(or Comments That wouldn't fit in the comments box at the bottom)

I came to realize when trying to respond in detail to a comment that our comment box is limited in how many characters can fit into it.

Since comments are like content on a page I decided to move any comments that are too long or answers that are too long to fit, into the content of the site itself (as it adds content anyway). I left the original comment there so you can see how long ago it was made, but the question and answers I'll put here if necessary.

I also maintained the image and link if the poster is on Wizzley (so you can visit their articles if you like! (and link-back baby!)

Below are said Q/A's

Thank you for commenting! Great questions!



Visit Marisa Wright's Articles!Marisawright  (copied from comments section)



I've heard it said that if you try to suppress a sneeze it can be dangerous. True or old wives' tale? But since you say a sneeze is very powerful, maybe it is true.

Jerrico Usher: Reply

Comments or Answers That Wouldn't Fit :)

Since a sneeze is about purging foreign substances that could harm the body I'd think not sneezing would allow it to pass and this takes up your bio-resources (white cells are deployed and while they are encapsulating the particle they can't help defend the body- (like our soldiers going to war, they are defending whatever and can't be there to protect their family)...

Depending on your white cell count and your health this could be bad or worse (or not really matter if your healthy as most people aren't I'd think it would be bad).

The white cells and other defenses are also the only defense against the cancer cells (in everyone's body) from proliferating and overwhelming the immune system so again, depending on the strength of your immune system this could be good or bad.

If you find yourself sneezing a lot and there isn't dust or allergens in the air- you may want to let it out!

Sneezes Can Blow Out 100+ feet
Sneezes Can Blow Out 100+ feet

The second thing is the fact that a sneeze is being contained

(not avoided but actually stopped in transmission)

Containing a sneeze completely could actually damage something (likely won't but could), as this is a powerful burst of air being FORCED out and blocked.

Cation: Grenade

If you hold your nose but the sneeze prevails (this has happened to me) then it could damage a membrane or cause a nose bleed (rare).

Many actually experience a moment of light-headed-ness or a painful sensation in the nasal cavity- this is because your actually containing a "Grenade" made of saliva and dropplets forced out of your nose, lungs, and anything between the two.

It could also cause something worse depending on the strength your body puts forth to expel it.
Another thing it could cause is carbon dioxide to enter the brain much like holding your breath and pushing on your chest.

The pressure caused can cause Co (your body creates when you breath out) instead of oxygen to enter the blood stream and although this isn't necessarily dangerous it's what causes that light-headed-ness (also note being high in any way is the result (the feeling) of the brain suffocating.

Do Not Try This At Home

Or anywhere else!

In high school we used to play this game where we'd have someone breathe deeply 10 times, then the last breath they'd breathe in deeeeeep and hold it while 3 of us would push on their chest.

This would cause you to pass out for about 30 seconds (and likely suffer some brain damage).

The idiots did this then let me fall straight down on my face, I was lucky not to lose teeth! (DO NOT DO THIS IT'S NOT SAFE)-

We were stupid I know, but it illustrates what a held in sneeze does to some light degree. Since just before you sneeze your body breathes in the needed air then pressurizes it and dispels it (all of this happens in micro seconds).

Iit's the same thing and likely the pressure is the same but not as long.

So Marissa, To Answer Your Question Susinctly...

Jerrico UsherTo answer this question, based on the aforementioned, I'd say it's not necessarily dangerous, but potentially.

Based on your health, the state of your nose and internal structures, lung capacity and so forth it could be or it likely isn't- but I don't recommend it either way- it can lead to a very painful (all be it temporary) condition where your nasal cavity and lungs hurt.

I doubt this would truly be dangerous- maybe not comfortable and could cause you to become light headed. I wouldn't recommend you let a sneeze pursue course if your eating or drinking something, however, as this will cause a bullet or grenade effect, and holding it in armed with grape-nuts cereal could blow your teeth out (I'm kidding but it will feel that way!).

One situation this may actually be dangerous in is when working with machinery, driving, swimming, or anything that requires your wits- as holding a sneeze before putting your hand near a sharp blade or while cutting something, you could get light headed, lose attention enough to cause an accident.

This is also true of continuing to work during a sneeze- luckily most sneezes come with a warning (the breathing in fast and pressurizing it period last about a second before the violent sneeze happens). Sometimes you don't get a warning like when a lot of dust is collecting around you and the body freaks out.

In driving it's likely you could become light headed which isn't good but it's the tearing up eyes that may be the most dangerous there.

It's circumstantial and dependent on the person but there is enough potential for it to be yes.
How's that for an answer :)

Updated: 03/22/2012, Jerrico_Usher
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Jerrico_Usher on 03/23/2012

Thanks Bizilady! What's funny is that when this was a "hub" it was only about 8 paragraphs and 500 words.... now it's over 2k Wizzley just makes all my work look and read better, I find myself updating the hell out of everything and while trying to tighten it up I end up expanding it drastically (as I've learned more about everything over the years and never touched my articles again until now :) thanks for reading!

Guest on 03/23/2012

I was always told that saying god Bless You is to somehow prevent your heart from stopping..LOL
Good Wizz on sneezing Jerrico

Marisawright on 03/22/2012

I've heard it said that if you try to suppress a sneeze it can be dangerous. True or old wives' tale? But since you say a sneeze is very powerful, maybe it is true.

katiem2 on 03/20/2012

What an interesting article, ah those questions coming to mind answered. Nicely written and delightful to read. Much enjoyed learning all about a common bond we all share the sneeze. :)

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