I’m riding in a car beside my husband in peaceful, contented silence when suddenly, without any sort of warning, he emits an ear-splitting noise that resembles the panicked sound a bull elephant might make when surrounded by a tribe of hungry lions. In that moment, I instinctively duck as every muscle in my body tenses and my heart threatens to leap out of my chest. Is a semi about to crash into our car at 70 mph? Is Dennis having a heart attack? Has he spotted a jet plane spiraling downward toward the horizon ahead? Nope.
He sneezed. My husband. Just. Sneezed.
Welcome to my world — The world of yet another person suffering from Post Traumatic Sneeze Disorder, otherwise known as PTSneezeD. Those of you living or working with an ELS (Extraordinarily Loud Sneezer) know my pain all too well. Our lives are spent constantly bracing ourselves for the next aural onslaught, and it is not pleasant. It is not pleasant at all.
For the past 15 years, I have begged, cajoled, coaxed, threatened, pleaded and reasoned with my otherwise dear husband to turn his eardrum-bursting sneezes down a notch– all to no avail.
“Imagine if I were standing right beside you and suddenly, I just screamed as loud as I could, for no reason whatsoever,” I said to him recently.
“That would be horrible,” he said.
“Well, that’s exactly what it feels like when you sneeze!” I said. Suddenly, I felt cautiously optimistic. Could it be my husband was finally getting some real insight into my pain and suffering?
Dennis chuckled. “No,” he said. “My sneezes are nothing like that. And anyway,” he continued, rounding back to the defense he always uses when the subject of his sneezes comes up. “I can’t help it.” He seemed strangely pleased with himself, as though his big sneezes gave him swagger. “They just come out that way.”
Oh, really? I’m not so sure. To be honest, I think loud sneezers — my husband included — totally can help it. They simply choose not to. But since I’ve learned over time that letting go of the small stuff is a big part of the long-term success of a marriage, in recent years I’ve mostly stayed silent on the matter — at least until I came across something that rocked my world and changed everything I thought I knew about my husband’s sneezing problem.
It came in the form of a Facebook post. (It always does, doesn’t it?) A Facebook friend asked, in a skeptical voice that mirrored my own, whether noisy sneezes could be, in her words, ‘moderated.’ She believed they could. Her husband (Surprise, surprise!) disagreed. A heated discussion followed in the comments, with men and women sounding off on both sides of the issue.
“I wonder if the sneezer doesn’t care to control and thus doesn’t,” one woman mused.
“My husband claims that holding in a sneeze (and he sneezes so loudly that it used to wake the babies!) kills brain cells,” another wrote.
It can’t be moderated,” a third woman wrote. “I, unfortunately, have this sneeze. It comes on like a hurricane and surprises me as much as it surprises everyone else.”
“I’m a big sneezer,” a guy asserted, “and if I tried to stifle it my head would explode.”
Another commenter linked to a Reddit conversation on the subject, where a user asked: “Are Loud Sneezers for real? Do they have to sneeze so damn loud? I’m talking about the sudden ACCCHHOOOO! ones. I don’t get it, they seem so fake and exaggerated.” Several people responded, assuring the writer that loud sneezes are, indeed, for real.
“I’m guilty of sneezing out loud,” one wrote. “I’ve tried to do it quietly. I’ve even attempted to plug my nose like some people do. However, upon doing so I literally thought my eyes were going to rocket out of my skull so I didn’t try that ever again.”
“Little teeny, suppressed sneezes confuse me,” wrote another. “Your body is trying to violently remove foreign particles by expelling them out. It’s like going back in time to the American Revolution and replacing all their muskets with water guns, so that it’s not as loud and offensive. Raise the Flag! For God and Liberty. Let the Sneezes Go!”
Okay, okay. Clearly, my husband is not alone. But can’t we at least get some sort of warning from sonic barrier-busting sneezers before they let one go? Perhaps a universal hand gesture that signifies a ridiculously loud sneeze is imminent? Is it so much to ask?
What do you think?
Header image via Wikimedia Commons.