What It Means When You Sneeze, According To Cultural Superstitions

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woman sneezing

Sneezing is a normal physical response to clear the nose of irritants like dust, bugs, and pollen. Some people even sneeze as a response to eating or being exposed to bright light.

While sneezing is a completely normal and explainable bodily response, there are also many common myths and superstitions around the world that explain what it means when you sneeze.

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15 Myths, Beliefs and Superstitions About Sneezing in Different Cultures

1. Someone is talking about you.

In many East Asian cultures, it’s believed that if you sneeze loudly, it is indicative of someone talking about you behind your back. Not only that, but the number of times you sneeze can give you an idea of what’s being said.

According to this belief, sneezing one time means someone is saying something good about you. When you sneeze two times in a row, however, that means someone is saying negative things about you. And sneezing three times in a row means the person talking about you is in love with you.

2. The number of sneezes predicts your future.

One of the most common superstitions in Armenia is that sneezing can predict how likely you are to achieve your goals.

The superstition goes that sneezing once means you’re less likely to achieve your goals, while two sneezes mean nothing will come in the way of you achieving those goals.

3. In Poland, sneezing means your mother-in-law is talking about you.

A popular belief in Polish culture is that sneezing means your mother-in-law is not only talking about you, but not saying very nice things.

If you aren’t married yet, it’s a sign that your relationship with your mother-in-law will be a strained one.

4. A cat sneezing is considered good luck.

An Italian superstition suggests that a cat sneezing brings good luck, especially when it comes to money.

Further, if a bride hears a cat sneeze on her wedding day, it means her marriage will be a lasting and healthy one.

There’s also an old boating superstition that says if a cat sneezes onboard a ship, it will rain.

5. A baby’s first sneeze saves them from fairies.

A Scottish superstition believes that newborn babies are under a fairy spell until they sneeze for the first time.

6. A child sneezing means something is on the way.

In New Zealand, a Maori superstition believes that a child sneezing means someone is going to visit or that you’ll soon learn an interesting piece of news.

An old Tongan superstition believes that a child sneezing will bring bad luck to the family.

7. There’s a meaning to the day of the week that you sneeze.

An old children’s rhyme goes as follows:

“If you sneeze on a Monday, you sneeze for danger;

Sneeze on a Tuesday, kiss a stranger;

Sneeze on a Wednesday, sneeze for a letter;

Sneeze on a Thursday, something better;

Sneeze on a Friday, sneeze for sorrow;

Sneeze on a Saturday, see your sweetheart tomorrow.

Sneeze on a Sunday, and the devil will have domination over you all week.”

The number of sneezes also matters, as another rhyme explains:

“One for sorrow

Two for joy

Three for a letter

Four for a boy.

Five for silver

Six for gold

Seven for a secret, never to be told”

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8. Sneezing is the soul leaving the body.

One ancient superstition suggested that sneezing caused the soul to leave the body, and is one explanation for why people say “God bless you” after someone sneezes. It’s thought that the blessing would prevent the soul from leaving.

Similarly, another ancient belief is that a sneeze meant evil spirits were leaving the body and saying “God bless you” protected both the sneezer and those around them from those spirits.

9. Your heart stops when you sneeze.

Sneezing is a very odd sensation, and many people once believed that your heart stopped when you sneeze.

It’s thought that this myth originated due to the change in blood flow to the heart during the process of sneezing, which also changes the rhythm of your heartbeat.

No need to worry, though. While your heartbeat may slow down for a moment, the electrical activity to your heart never stops, meaning your heart does not stop when you sneeze.

10. Some consider sneezing a bad omen.

Europeans in the Middle Ages believed that sneezing would bring bad luck. They believed it was a sign that someone was going to die in the coming days because of the amount of breath lost during the sneeze.

Likewise, an Indian superstition believed that sneezing as you were leaving your house was bad luck. To avoid bad luck, you’d have to drink water after sneezing.

11. It’s good luck to sneeze at the same time as someone else.

One myth claims that sneezing at the same time as someone else means the Gods are happy with you and will bless both sneezers with good health.

12. Sneezing with your eyes open will make your eyes pop out.

There’s an age-old myth that suggests the pressure of a sneeze would make your eyes pop out if you sneeze with your eyes open. However, it appears that’s untrue.

"There is little to no evidence to substantiate such claims," David Huston, MD, associate dean of the Texas A&M College of Medicine Houston campus and an allergist at Houston Methodist Hospital, said in a 2016 press release. "Pressure released from a sneeze is extremely unlikely to cause an eyeball to pop out even if your eyes are open."

So if you don’t close your eyes when you sneeze, don’t worry — you’ll be OK.

13. Sneezing while getting dressed is bad luck.

An old superstition claims that sneezing while you’re getting dressed for the day means bad luck will follow you around for the rest of the day.

14. The time of day you sneeze has different meanings.

In China, a superstition goes that the time of day you sneeze is trying to tell you something.

Sneezing in the morning means someone misses you. Sneezing in the afternoon means you’ll receive an invitation soon. And sneezing at night means you’ll see a friend soon.

15. Sneezing reveals the truth.

An old myth claims that if a person sneezes after someone tells them something, it means that what the person said is the truth.

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Micki Spollen is an editor, writer, and traveler. Follow her on Instagram and keep up with her travels on her website.