Don’t Sneeze With Your Eyes Open

Some topics simply can’t be ignored. Like why you close your eyes when you sneeze.

No one knows for sure, but there are two theories.

Remember that a sneeze is a forceful expulsion of germ-filled air from your nose and mouth. So the first reason to close your eyes is to protect those delicate organs from all those germs; there’s no telling what kind of infection could result from that stuff getting into your eyes. This “could be an adaptive protective mechanism,” says Dr. Kelsy Steele, a clinical instructor in the College of Optometry at The Ohio State Univesity Wexner Medical Center Steele. If true, it’s a really smart adaptation.

Or the eye-closing could just be a series of involuntary contractions of the muscles in your face. According to Dr. William Reisacher, an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor) and director of Allergy Services at New York-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine, “Some of those muscles surround your eyes, so when they contract, your eyes close.”

If all that sounds simplistic, well, since eye-closing-while-sneezing isn’t a subject that’s been thoroughly researched, this is the best information available.

Now you’re probably wondering — if you could, would it be okay to sneeze with your eyes open?

Uh, no. If this really is a defense mechanism, then it’s best to keep your eyes shut. Plus, although your eyeballs wouldn’t pop out when you sneeze (as a childhood playmate may have told you), there is a chance of eyeball dislocation. It’s called globe subluxation, which is a medical term for the eyeballs temporarily (and painfully) protruding forward far more than they should. It’s very rare, but why take the chance?

If you’d like more detail, check out “Can You Sneeze With Your Eyes Open?” by Korin Miller ( The illustration came from that site.

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