We’re sniffing out the truth.
Our Middle School Mysteries series investigates childhood rumors you never bothered to fact-check yourself.
My sixth-grade Social Studies teacher had a habit of making wild proclamations on the regular. He would prowl around our crowded classroom as we hunched over our geography quizzes, off-handedly throwing out statements like, “If you crack your neck, your head will fall off” and, “The Boston Red Sox is the best team in baseball.”
He also told our class he modeled his entire parenting philosophy after Bill Cosby’s book “Fatherhood,” so I have reason to believe his judgment was faulty pretty much across the board.
One of his pseudo-scientific theories stuck with me over the years; I can’t recall what prompted him to say it, but I clearly remember him telling us that if you sneeze with your eyes open, your eyeballs will fall out of your head and you will die. It was an incredibly morbid supposition, especially when you consider that he delivered this little tidbit smack-dab in the middle of allergy season.
The science behind sneezing
Apparently, America’s educators have been torturing their students with this misinformation for years, because this particular rumor has already been thoroughly debunked. But the science behind it is pretty fascinating, so here we go.
A sneeze is a reflex, and it’s a particularly powerful one, at that: A sneeze can leave your nose at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. For reference, a commercial Boeing 747 has a cruising speed of about 550–600 miles per hour.
Since a sneeze is so strong, it doesn’t seem entirely unrealistic that one could force your eyeballs to pop out of their sockets. But don’t worry: There is no connection between your eye sockets and your nose. These two separate facial features are connected by a series of cranial nerves, which are linked in the brain. When you sneeze, the nerve prompts the brain, which then prompts another nerve, which forces your eyelids to close. So, like the sneeze itself, the act of closing your eyes is a reflex.
Can you sneeze with your eyes open?
Your eyes aren’t exactly free-balling inside their sockets. The orbs are firmly attached via your medial and lateral rectus, superior and inferior oblique and superior and inferior rectus muscles. There is no muscle located directly behind the eye, so the idea that the orbs could be pushed outside of their sockets by sneezing is patently false.
It’s also untrue that everyone sneezes with their eyes closed. Most people do, but there are definite outliers.
It’s also possible — albeit rare — for eyeballs to become dislodged. In 2007, an Indian man complained that his eyes spontaneously popped out of their sockets several times over the course of three months. This condition is medically referred to as Luxation, and it’s usually attributed to traumatic accidents, incorrect contact usage or underlying conditions.
So, please do cover your mouth when you sneeze, but don’t worry about your eyeballs.