Why do People Say "Bless You" When You Sneeze?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Some historians believe that people began to say 'Bless you' during the Dark Ages because sneezing was thought to precede the plague.
Some historians believe that people began to say 'Bless you' during the Dark Ages because sneezing was thought to precede the plague.

For many people, saying "Bless you" or "Gesundheit" following someone else's sneeze is a conditioned response or reflexive action. Whenever they hear a loud sneeze, the next words out of their mouths will be a blessing of some description. They do this, essentially, because of centuries of religion and tradition. By not saying "Bless you" or something similar, individuals may believe that they are setting themselves up for an even bigger problem down the road.

In some cultures, it is believed that whenever someone sneezes, he or she may be expelling some of the life forces or spirits sent by the Creator.
In some cultures, it is believed that whenever someone sneezes, he or she may be expelling some of the life forces or spirits sent by the Creator.

From some interpretations of the Judeo-Christian point of view, the heart and mind have nothing on the nostrils: when God decided to create Man from the dust of the Earth, He blew the spirit of life into Man's nostrils. In many other religions, the nostrils are considered to be a gateway between the spiritual and physical worlds. Whenever someone sneezes, he or she may be expelling some of the life forces or spirits sent by the Creator. By saying "Bless you," it is believed that evil spirits are prevented from entering the sufferer's body through the nostrils.

The tradition of saying "bless you" after someone sneezes has its origins in religion.
The tradition of saying "bless you" after someone sneezes has its origins in religion.

There is also a theory that, during the Dark and Middle Ages, a violent sneeze was often a precursor of dreaded diseases such as the plague. Whenever someone sneezed, those closest to him or her issued an immediate blessing to ward off the evil forces which led to disease and suffering. The words weren't so much for the health of the sneezer, but for the continued good health of those who came in contact with the expelled mucus. Some sources say Pope Gregory I popularized the common use of blessings as he reflexively blessed those who sneezed in his presence.

The very act of sneezing may also prompt a "Bless you" response from onlookers, especially if it is a powerful blast. Some common rumors about sneezing suggest that a person's heart may stop beating, the pressure could induce a stroke, or the eyes may be blown out of their sockets. The immediate response is thought to be an expression of gratitude that the sneezer did not experience any of those events. The German blessing, Gesundheit, literally means "May you be called healthy," and most likely entered the American vernacular following the immigration of the Pennsylvania Dutch and other German populations.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular TheHealthBoard contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular TheHealthBoard contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments

anon970444

A Muslim says "alhamdulillah," or "all praise to the one and only god." He is actually praising the god out of gratitude for relieving him from the difficulties.

anon318549

You are not giving the blessing. You're asking God to bless the person. The whole phrase is, "May God bless you." But people are lazy and shortened it down to just "bless you."

anon303361

I sneeze again whenever people say "Bless you," and can't help it. Sometimes it lasts for more than minute.

anon297296

Despite its origins (which are varied and interesting) personally, I bless anyone who sneezes in my presence just as a courtesy and a show of concern. It's called human compassion and there is nothing wrong with it. The world would be a better place if people showed a little compassion now and then.

anon296268

One more thing people do just because -- and usually it relate to superstition, which always relates to lack of belief and/or trust in God. Those of us who are believers should always question these types of things and not just do them because great-great-great grandma did them.

anon226102

Saying "bless you" expels air from your mouth, blowing away airborne germs from the sneeze. Long before people were aware of germs, those who uttered a phrase were more likely to avoid the airborne viruses cast at them by a sneeze.

anon214037

I'll take a "bless you" anytime. I sure will.

anon200306

You say bless you when somebody sneezes because your heart stops every time you do.

anon197995

I have heard the superstitious practice of saying it is because: Your heart stops or skips a beat when you sneeze and that saying it, keeps evil spirits, demons and/or the devil at a distance and your soul is protected or safer. What do you think of that?

anon160188

This is crazy. Why would I say "bless you" when someone sneezes. Some people sneezes with phlegm that comes along with it. One of my co-worker sneezes in front of me, he sneezes and try to catch it with his hands it's disgusting.

anon154708

I'm sorry but that is just baloney! lol. People think I'm rude when I don't say bless you after they sneeze. I think it's stupid.

anon152814

Why do we insist on calling attention to others when they sneeze? Hey, look at that guy who just blew snot all over his arm! Let people sneeze in peace.

anon151011

God bless you all.

anon147245

Would it be creepy if I were to lay my hands on the sneezer when saying "Bless you?"

anon142703

I have always said Bless you and never knew why. I guess I have been a parrot all these years. Thanks Eulie!

anon134342

This originates from when anyone was ill with the Black Death and the only thing you could say to them was "God Bless You" as there was no cure.

anon122626

Wow this is really something. First, how can a imperfect being bless you. You should be praying to God for his blessing because that is who blessing comes from.

anon122338

you are waiting for someone to ask you something when you don't say thank you? how weird. i think you take it too seriously, like who cares if they say it and have those beliefs? what are you going to say to them, give them your thoughts as why you didn't answer? some things don't need that and this is one of them. so what?

anon89877

I love it when people sneeze around me, because I just stand there "doo do do dododo." When I sneeze and they don't get that "Thank you (for your play on superstition)", I get that emanation of awkwardness lol. I'm waiting for someone to ask the question. No one has asked yet. We are such freaking muppets, I swear.

anon89425

Great information. Thank you.

anon85681

I believe that of all our physical expulsions, a sneeze is the least of them for needing a blessing. Certainly others should be blessed more.

anon85596

Good info! Thanks.

anon65721

Thank you very much for the explanation.

anon47400

Great website. This tells me everything I need to know. "Bless you!"

anon47399

This is a great help for what I wanted to know. Thanks.

tahoe

A person sneezes at an average rate of 90mph. The sneeze is caused by an irritation in your nose. Nerve endings send messages to your brain, your brain tells your muscles in your diaphram, stomach, eyelids, and throat, and out it comes.

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    • Some historians believe that people began to say 'Bless you' during the Dark Ages because sneezing was thought to precede the plague.
      By: Serhiy Kobyakov
      Some historians believe that people began to say 'Bless you' during the Dark Ages because sneezing was thought to precede the plague.
    • In some cultures, it is believed that whenever someone sneezes, he or she may be expelling some of the life forces or spirits sent by the Creator.
      By: Andy Dean
      In some cultures, it is believed that whenever someone sneezes, he or she may be expelling some of the life forces or spirits sent by the Creator.
    • The tradition of saying "bless you" after someone sneezes has its origins in religion.
      By: Kalim
      The tradition of saying "bless you" after someone sneezes has its origins in religion.