When my niece was born, she spent several weeks in the NICU. Oddly enough, one of the traits nurses paid the most attention to was the number of sneezes she produced. Sneezing more than four times in a row could actually lead to an extra point in the NICU’s demerit-like system, adding more time to her infant-jail sentence.
Today, at 7, nobody gives a shit how many times she sneezes: That girl might unleash a fury of seven mucus-y sneezes in a row (her sneezes are loud as hell, I must add) and we’re all supposed to ignore it, because she’s a kid with allergies and that’s just what they do. But as time drags us from the cradle to the grave and we creep toward second childishness, do our sneezes become concerning once more? Do we reach a time where sneezing multiple times in a row again serves as a mark against us?
At very least, if sneezing multiple times in a row is a new phenomenon for you, it might just mean your bodily functions aren’t quite as strong as they once were. As in, yes, you’re just getting old. Sneezing is primarily caused by irritation within your nostrils, triggering the release of histamines. Histamines are our bodies’ defense against foreign particles, but they’re incredibly stupid. While you might inhale a bit of dust and ultimately be fine, your body thinks that bit of dust is definitely going to kill you, and sends an overzealous team of histamines to remove it by any means necessary. One of their methods to do this is to irritate the nerves in the nose.
“This activates and results in the sneeze,” allergist Dawn Zacharias at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland told Popular Science in 2015. “It’s a powerful release of air, expelling what’s in the nose that’s causing the irritation.”
Basically, a sneeze is a way for your body to try to get rid of junk and nasties. One sneeze doesn’t always do the job, so you sneeze again. Over time, your nasal strength can deteriorate. Some people don’t have very powerful sneezes to begin with, meaning they have to sneeze several times in a row to release whatever it is their body is trying to remove. But really, your sneezes getting weaker isn’t of much consequence.
As for why my niece’s sneezes as an infant were so critical, I’m not exactly sure. According to Emory University’s School of Medicine pediatrics site, sneezing can be a stress response in premature babies’ autonomic system, pertaining to respiratory, cardiac, digestive and temperature control functions. Maybe as we get older, sneezes begin to indicate a similar irregularity. There’s not yet any actual evidence to support this theory, but what the hell, why not worry about it anyway?