When I was six years old, I sneezed a noodle out of my nose.
I was at the airport with my family. We were running to catch a flight somewhere, and suddenly I stopped, sneezed, and launched the pasta into the air. I still remember the whitish noodle curled up against the black linoleum floor. We all laughed, and the "noodle sneeze" instantly became family lore.
As I grew older and repeated the story — either to distant relatives or perplexed friends — I started wondering how in the world my memorable moment was possible. When it happened, it was the morning. I had eaten spaghetti at night. Where was the noodle hidden during that whole time? Could it be the quintessential Italian thing to sneeze pasta? (I’m Italian.)
Simply, how does a noodle come out a nose?
Today, I Googled "sneezing noodles," to see if anyone else shared my experience, and would you believe it, up popped all these videos of babies sneezing snotty noodles. They’re so cute and absolutely disgusting at the same time!
Now I wasn’t just investigating for myself. These cute babies deserved the truth, too.
The reason why pasta sometimes exits through the nose is a great example of how peculiar — and gross — the human body is.
Though we all probably wished this wasn’t true, the nose and the mouth are connected. Whenever we swallow, the soft palate — the soft portion of the palate in the back our mouth — elevates and closes that connection. That keeps the food and water from going up our noses. At least, most of the time.
"If you’re drinking some soda and someone makes a really funny joke and you start laughing, I mean, it could potentially come out your nose," says Chris Chang, an otolaryngologist in Warrenton, Virginia.
But in babies, the connection between the mouth and the nose is not closed while they eat. And that’s because babies, in the first few months of their lives, can’t breathe through their mouths. They can only breathe through their noses. As a result, unlike adults, babies can breathe and swallow at the same time. They can also more easily get food stuck up their noses because mouths and noses are connected.
"So if they happen to be eating a noodle, for example, and suddenly they sneeze, because the soft palate is in down position, things can potentially come out their nose," Chang says.
I was six when this happened to me, so my soft palate should have already learned how to elevate and hermetically seal my nose. But in my case, Chang says, the noodle probably remained stuck behind my soft palate the whole night, where I couldn’t swallow it down. So when I sneezed the morning after, it came out of my nose, through the air, and down onto the airport floor.
Ten years later, I have my answer. I’m just glad these YouTube babies won’t have to wait.