Why Do Some People Scream-Sneeze?

Photographed by Megan Madden.
Everybody knows a scream-sneezer: They shriek some boisterous iteration of "a-choo" across the room, and you're like, "shut up — I mean, bless you." But we shouldn't judge these people, because they literally can't help it. Even Beyoncé sneezes with noise, okay?
"Sneezes are very strong reflexes to clear the upper airway and are often spontaneous and involuntary, thus we cannot control the force," says Erich Voigt, otolaryngologist and clinical associate professor in the Department of Otolaryngology at NYU Langone Medical Center. Everybody sneezes differently, depending on the size of their body and the strength of their muscles, Dr. Voigt says.
In addition to the bodily variation, everyone has a different sneeze-style. "Some people let the force of the sneeze come through the nose, while others will allow the force out via the mouth, and for some it’s out of the nose and mouth," Dr. Voigt says. "Each of these types will produce differing noises." Your sneezes also don't always come out the same way: They can be small sometimes and loud and intense another time, he says. But no matter what you do, you shouldn't try to alter the way you sneeze to make it quieter — it's not worth it.
The reason why you say "achoo" starts when air is forced out of your body from your lungs through a strong contraction in your diaphragm, then the air passes through your voice box and makes your vocal chords vibrate and make noise, Dr. Voigt says. "The size and shape of the neck and head then cause the sound to resonate and make a unique sound for that person," he says. That's not to say a smaller person couldn't still make a loud sneeze noise, because at the end of the day, it's all in the delivery.
A few years ago, a neurologist came up with an anecdotal theory that your personality influences the way you sneeze. His logic was that people who sneeze loudly are demonstrative and outgoing, and people who sneeze quietly are shy. Dr. Voigt doesn't think you can tell anything about someone's personality by the way they sneeze, but a shy person might not want to make noise in a public place — hence the quiet sneeze.
As gross as it is to have germs catapult onto surfaces when you sneeze, you shouldn't let the fear of making a loud noise keep you from releasing your sneeze. Live your sneeze truth, whatever that may be!

More from Body

R29 Original Series