New research reveals things you certainly did not know about sneezing and you have to be aware of, starting now.
While popular notion holds that sneezing disperses a uniform spray of fluid, the new research – published in the journal Experiments in Fluids – suggests this is not the case. MIT researchers used high-speed video to stop more than 100 sneezes in action, capturing those fractions of a second where saliva flies from the mouth and into the air. What they found was that sneezes don’t project a uniform spray, but instead produce fragments of fluid that resemble paint being hurled toward a canvas.
To reach their findings, the team used two high-speed monochrome cameras to record more than 100 sneezes – induced by nose tickling – of three healthy participants who were placed against a black backdrop.The high-speed imaging allowed researchers to capture around 200 milliseconds of each participant’s sneezes and analyze them frame by frame.
From their analysis, the researchers found that as soon as fluid leaves a person’s mouth through sneezing, it combines with the simultaneously exhaled air to form a balloon. As this balloon moves through the air, it breaks into thin threads that divide into sprays of different-sized droplets. These droplets either stay in the air or fall to the ground.
Moreover, the team found that for subjects whose sneezes contained more elastic saliva, their exhaled fluid stayed in thin threads for longer, meaning it traveled farther before breaking into droplets. The team declared that the findings came entirely as a surprise.
Lydia Bourouiba, an assistant professor at MIT who led the study, said the goal of the research was to determine the size of the droplets emitted by a sneeze. Bourouiba also states that understanding how sneezing disperses droplets can help researchers map the spread of infections through the environment, as well as identify individuals who may be ‘super spreaders.’
The findings of this research are built on those of another study from the MIT team, which was reported by Medical News Today in 2014. In that study, the researchers found that droplets from coughs and sneezes travel around 200 times farther than previously thought. The team hopes that their previous research combined with their new study will help identify individuals who are most likely to spread illness, as well as aid the development of disease prevention models.
Currently, the researchers are setting up a new lab space at MIT specifically designed to accommodate parallel experiments to understand various modes of disease transmission. This space will also include a smaller, climate-controlled chamber in which they will be able to visualize sneezes, coughs and other modes of disease transmission, in collaboration with medical partners.
All in all, it is very interesting how a simple sneeze can mean so much more than we initially thought. It seems like what actually goes on during during a big ‘achoo!’ is a lot more complex than what meets the eye.