healthHealth and Medicine

The Eye-Popping Truth Behind The Legend That Your Eyes Can Pop Out When You Sneeze

Urban legend has it that if you keep your eyes open when you sneeze, your eye pops out its socket like a champagne cork.

James Felton

James Felton

James Felton

James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

James is a published author with four pop-history and science books to his name. He specializes in history, strange science, and anything out of the ordinary.

Senior Staff Writer

A woman sneezing, with her eyes closed.

It's actually perfectly possible to sneeze with your eyes open. Image credit: Master1305/

Spend enough time on the internet and you have probably come across the urban legend that if you sneeze with your eyes open, your eyeball can pop out of its socket.

Well, you'll be pleased to have it confirmed that your eyeballs do not pop out of your sockets like champagne corks, even if similarly horrifying injuries can occur during a sneeze.


Why not? First off, though you do have an autonomic reflex to close your eyes when you sneeze, it is possible to sneeze with your eyes open. 

Given that people can do this, if the legend were true you'd expect to find some cases of eye-popping in the medical literature, which there just aren't. Besides which, if your eye were to pop out, your eyelids do not have the muscle to keep it in your socket.

The air spaces in the nose and throat aren't connected to anything behind the eye, meaning that there's no way a sneeze can create pressure that would force your eyes to shoot out and dangle around like a meat-themed game of Swingball.


The origin of the legend appears to be a story reportedly published on April 30, 1882, in The New York Times. The story claimed that while riding a streetcar, a woman "was seized with a sudden fit of sneezing and burst one of her eyeballs". Following the incident, the woman was said to have experienced intense pain, as you'd probably expect.

The story is unlikely to be true, or else was caused by some other mechanism, given the points above. However, a case report from 2015 does detail the case of a 32-year-old woman who suffered a painful fracture underneath her eyeball after a "forceful" bout of blowing her nose.

The team presumed the fracture to be the result of nose-blowing, given the patient couldn't recall any other injury to the area.

"Nose blowing can generate significant intranasal pressure," the team explained in the study, "[...] causing a barotrauma that may lead to a fracture of the walls of the orbit." 


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