Shock fact – some people can, and none of them find that their eyes pop out of their skull (well, actually once person apparently did, but only one).
The reason most people can’t help but close their eyes is a simple reflex, just like jerking your leg if you get hit below the kneecap. Our nose and eyes are linked by the same (cranial) nerves, which is probably why this reflex happens. Some biologists have suggested that originally this was to protect our eyes from whatever we were sneezing out, but nobody really knows.
One thing is for certain though, when you sneeze air, snot, and whatever else was hiding in your nasal cavity shoots out at 120 to 160 kilometres per hour. This sends up to 5,000 droplets of mucus a metre and a half away. So even if you don’t close your eyes, make sure you cover your nose and mouth.
The featured image was borrowed and edited, with thanks, from Jeroen under a Creative Commons License.