You’ve heard that if you can keep your eyes open during a sneeze, you’ll be rewarded with the sensation of both eyeballs popping out of their sockets. Is that true?
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I’ve got a question for you: When you were a kid, did you hear the story that if you manage to resist this reflex and hold your eyes open during a sneeze, they’ll pop out of your head? Is that true?
Short answer: Almost definitely not, but unfortunately we can’t be as perfectly certain as we would all like to be about this particular topic.
Here are the facts:
Fact 1: Your eyes can pop out of their sockets. It’s not very common, but it can happen. Doctors call anterior bulging of the eye beyond its normal orbit a case of “exophthalmos.”
If the eyeball gets dislocated from its socket enough that its equator is literally outside your retracted eyelids, this is known as “globe luxation.”
Fact 2: If you want to sleep soundly tonight and every other night for the rest of your life, you should not search the web for images of “globe luxation.”
Fact 3: Globe luxation is rare, but can be caused by a number of conditions. Of course gouging at the eyeball with a finger or other instrument will do it. Some various types of traumatic head injury can cause the eyeballs to pop out of their sockets. Many cases of spontaneous globe luxation in the medical literature have happened while the eye was being messed with in some way, such as during the application of contact lenses or eyedrops, or when a doctor was manipulating the eyelids during an exam. Violent vomiting has also been cited as a cause of eyeball dislocation (and I might add that whoever this refers to has my sympathies, because that sounds like the worst day ever).
A 2002 ophthalmology study reviewed the 26 cases of spontaneous globe luxation then known to the medical record.
While most of the cases they found were triggered by manipulation of the eyelids, the authors did also claim that a small number were brought on by other triggers, including things like crying, coughing, nose-blowing, bending over, and, yes, sneezing.
So sneezing might have caused the dislocation of the eyeball in a very, very small number of known cases. But does keeping your eyes open during the sneeze have anything to do with it?
As I said before, almost definitely not. And it’s certainly true that eyeball dislocation doesn’t happen EVERY time you sneeze with your eyes open, because you can go to YouTube right now and look up videos of people sneezing with their eyes open. It’s not easy, but some people can do it, and their eyeballs are fine.
But the complete lack of correlation between open eyes and eyeball poppage is a combination of the fact that sneezing almost never, if ever, causes the eyes to pop out, and the fact that your eyelids don’t really do any of the work of keeping your eyeballs in their sockets to begin with.
Instead, your eyeballs are primarily held in place by a combination of six muscles known as the extraocular muscles, which control the movements of the eyes and are much stronger than the eyelids.
So whether or not you can manage to keep your eyes open during a sneeze probably has little to no effect on the chances that your eyes will pop out, and those chances are very, very slim in the first place... though possibly not zero... Sleep tight!
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