Sneezing is a reflex action that helps expel irritants and foreign particles from the nasal passages. This involuntary action can be triggered by various factors such as allergies, cold, flu, and other respiratory infections. However, some people experience sneezing episodes when they are hungry or just before eating a meal. This phenomenon, also known as “snatiation,” has puzzled scientists and the general public for decades. This article will explore the possible reasons behind the connection between sneezing and hunger.
What is Snatiation?
Snatiation is a term used to describe the reflexive sneezing that occurs after eating a large meal or when hungry. The word “snatiation” is a combination of the words “sneeze” and “satiation” and was first coined in the 1950s by Dr. Harold Wolff, a neurologist at Cornell University. The phenomenon is relatively rare, and it is estimated that only about 18-35% of the population experience it.
Why Do We Sneeze?
Before we delve into the reasons behind snatiation, let’s first understand why we sneeze. Sneezing is a reflex action triggered by irritation in the nasal passages. When the nasal tissues are irritated by dust, pollen, smoke, or other particles, the body releases histamine, a chemical that causes the tissues to swell and produce excess mucus. The irritation of the nasal tissues triggers the trigeminal nerve, which sends a message to the brainstem to initiate the sneeze reflex. The brainstem then sends a signal to the muscles in the chest and diaphragm, causing them to contract forcefully, and expel the irritants through the nose and mouth.
Why Do We Sneeze When We’re Hungry?
The connection between hunger and sneezing is not fully understood, but there are several theories behind this phenomenon.
Nerve Cross-Talk Theory
One theory suggests that snatiation occurs due to the nerve cross-talk between the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for the sneeze reflex, and the vagus nerve, which is involved in digestion. The vagus nerve sends signals to the brainstem to slow down breathing and heart rate during digestion, and this may interfere with the sneeze reflex. As a result, when the stomach is empty, and the vagus nerve is less active, the sneeze reflex may be more easily triggered.
Sensitivity to Food Odors Theory
Another theory suggests that snatiation is due to the sensitivity of the olfactory system to food odors. The olfactory system, which is responsible for the sense of smell, is closely connected to the trigeminal nerve, which controls the sneeze reflex. When we smell food, the olfactory system sends signals to the trigeminal nerve, which may activate the sneeze reflex. This theory suggests that the sneeze reflex is not triggered by hunger per se, but rather by the anticipation of food.
A third theory suggests that snatiation is an evolutionary adaptation that helps clear the airways and nasal passages before eating. In the wild, our ancestors would have been exposed to various irritants in their environment, such as dust, dirt, and pollen. Sneezing before eating would have helped them expel these irritants from their nasal passages and reduce the risk of infection or illness. This theory suggests that the sneeze reflex is triggered by the anticipation of food, which signals the body to prepare for digestion.
In conclusion, snatiation is a relatively rare phenomenon that occurs when some people sneeze after eating a large meal or when hungry. The exact reason behind this connection is not fully understood, but several theories suggest that it may be