Sneezing – Causes, Treatments and Good Sneezing Practices

Key Points:

  1. Introduction
  2. What Causes Sneezing?
  3. What is Photic Sneeze Reflex?
  4. Are Sneezes Infectious?
  5. Should You Stifle Your Sneezes?
  6. Treatments for Conditions that Cause Sneezing
  7. Good Sneezing Practices

Introduction

All human beings have sneezing in common. Whether you are a loud sneezer or try to muffle it, there are times when you just can’t help but sneeze. For some, sneezing can be a real problem, particularly if they suffer from photic sneeze reflex. Whether your sneezes are caused by allergies or some other reason, sneezes can be embarrassing. They always seem to sneak up on you when you least expect them. Let’s take a look at what causes people to sneeze and how you can treat any conditions that may cause sneezing.

What Causes Sneezing?

There are several reasons that people sneeze. Infrequent sneezes are usually the by-product of small particles that get past your nose hair and irritate the sensitive lining of your nose. You may notice a slight burning or tingling right before or after this type of sneeze.

SneezingWhen the particle or particles reach this sensitive area of your nose, histamines are triggered and are released into your system. This is what makes you feel as though you have a burning sensation in your nose. This signals your body that it needs to sneeze to expel the particles that are irritating your nose. You may not believe it, but your nose isn’t the only body part involved in a sneeze. The entire response to an allergen or particle involves your chest, face and throat muscles as well as your lungs.

Other causes of sneezing may include a common cold or the flu. In this instance, your nasal passages are irritated and the same process above is initiated. However, since the burning feeling in your nose does not go away as it would if you had particles irritating your nose, you continue to keep sneezing.

Allergies are probably the most common reason for sneezing. If you have hay fever, you know exactly how much irritation can come from pollen. Other allergens that produce a sneeze response include dust, dust mites or animal dander. For some people, the smell of perfume or other strong chemicals may also induce sneezing.

Environmental factors may also be a cause of infrequent sneezing. Some people have noticed that they have a need to sneeze when walking into a cool building from the hot outdoors. This is caused by a contraction in your mucus membranes in response to the blast of cold air hitting your nose. Another lesson common reason for sneezing is Photic Sneeze Reflex.

What is Photic Sneeze Reflex?

Do you walk outside into sunshine and immediately begin sneezing? If you do, chances are you have Photic Sneeze Reflex. This condition has been recognized since the time of Aristotle and can affect millions of people. Approximately 17 to 35% of the entire world’s population can suffer from this reflex. You may sneeze just once, but many people report sneezing several times in quick succession.

The reason this occurs is due to a congenital malformation of the nerve that controls sneezing. This is called the trigeminal nerve or the fifth cranial nerve. This particular nerve is believed to be responsible for sending visual signals to the brain. If this nerve becomes over-stimulated, Photic Sneeze Reflex may occur.

This is not a dangerous condition, but it can be a little embarrassing, especially if you sneeze several times in a row. Sufferers may also notice that their sneezes are brought on by cold air, or by strong smells. Mint gum seems to be a common trigger for many people.

Are Sneezes Infectious?

Since a sneeze is so powerful, it has long been believed that it is responsible for the spread of disease. Allergic sneezing and Photic Sneeze Reflex will not cause the sufferer to spread disease, but those suffering from a cold or the flu may be able to spread bacteria to others when they sneeze.

SneezingA powerful sneeze can produce nearly 40,000 aerosol droplets which are propelled through the air at great force. The most common estimates for the speed these droplets travel is around 95 mph, but some people may be able to reach 650 mph for their sneezes. This is the main reason that airborne diseases can be so easily spread throughout the populace. When you think about 40,000 infectious droplets being propelled through the air at 95 mph, it paints a pretty clear picture about how far these droplets can go.

Should You Stifle Your Sneezes?

Now that we know how infectious sneezes can be a lot of people may want to start stifling them. This is actually very dangerous and should be avoided at all times. Although sneezing can draw unwanted attention to yourself, stifling a sneeze can produce actual bodily harm.

Scientists have found that over time, stifling sneezes can cause irreparable damage to your sinuses, your inner ear and even your brain. The amount of force behind the sneeze is what makes it so dangerous to stifle. Your brain and ears have to deal with a backdraft of pressure that could possibly rupture your eardrum.

If you absolutely must stifle a sneeze, there is a better way to do it. If you feel as though you are about to sneeze try to hold your breath for a few seconds after completely emptying your lungs. This interrupts the process, giving your body no air to expel to create a sneeze. This should not be done often, but works well in an emergency.

Treatments for Conditions That Cause Sneezing

There are no treatments for the occasional sneeze, but if you suffer from allergies there are numerous over the counter medicines that may help. You should visit with your doctor before adding any new medications to your daily routine to ensure that they will not counteract with any other drugs you may be taking. If over the counter pills do not work, you may need a stronger prescription medicine for allergy sufferers.

Antihistamines work by suppressing the flow of histamines that cause your body to start the sneezing process. You won’t have the symptoms of a burning or tingling nose and your body won’t need to react by expelling air. These pills also work quite well for Photic Sneeze Reflex sufferers in some cases.

If you are suffering from a cold or the flu, over the counter cold medication may reduce the amount of sneezing. This is important to make sure that you don’t continue to spread the disease.

Good Sneezing Practices

If you absolutely have to sneeze, make sure that you use a tissue and not your hands. When you think about how many things you touch throughout the day, it’s easy to see how disease can be spread. By blowing 40,000 infectious particles into your hands, you are setting up a perfect contamination zone that can infect nearly everyone around you.

It is a good idea to use a disposable tissue paper when you sneeze, and if necessary, at least two. Try to find a brand that won’t shred, since they won’t spread disease as easily. When you are done with your tissue, fold or crinkle it up and properly dispose of it. It is important to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after you sneeze or dispose of any soiled tissue paper. This will cut down on the amount of germs on your hands.

By using good sneezing practices you can cut down on the spread of an outbreak, particularly during winter months and other infectious periods of the year.

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  • doshee

    My husband rarely sneezes, so quite often he has severe pain behind his left eye. Is there a relationship? and if so, how can he ‘learn to sneeze’? Thank you very much.

  • Jan Modric

    Rarely sneezes? You mean, his nose gets irritated, but he can’t sneeze?

    Looking at the bright light, or sun, when the nose is irritated can stimulate sneezing. The same does gently rubbing of the bottom of the nose.

    When one is about to sneeze but he doesn’t, pressure in the head rises considerably, so, yes, it can be related with the pain behind the eye. Since it’s only in one eye, it’s possible that there is some underlying eye disorder, like glaucoma. Checking with ophtalmologist is highly recommended.

  • ofel3

    My husband sneezes almost everyday, and repeatedly,we have tried nasal sprays but it does nt go away. I am not sure what triggers the sneezing but i know we ensure the house is clean, maybe the cold air, but what if it is hot and there is no cold air, he even sneezes when we are in bed ready to sleep. please help

  • hariprasad

    I am 29Years Male at the time of wakeup bed at morning in winter I feel itchy nose and daily sneezing.

    Recently I consult ENT Specialist he given me medicine at the time of taking medicine I have no itchy nose and sneezing, after complete the course the sneezing starts.

    What is cause of my sneezing in winter is any related to Esinophils or Allergy levels is any problem in future life.

  • Jan Modric

    To hariprasad.

    What exact medicine has helped you? Do you have elevated eosinophils in the blood?

  • bssg123

    i am getting sneezing almost everyday,

    will i get any heart problem

  • Jan Modric

    To bssg123.

    Why do you sneeze? Are you allergic to pollens or some food?

  • layla

    hey!whenever i wake up in the morning i start to sneeze.i sneeze two or three times about every two hours even the weather here is warm and when i sneeze my nose itches and running,but my eyes are fine.would you please tell me what’s that?thanks

  • maryam

    hi i always sneeze and i my nose and eyes itch and i have runny nose

  • Jan Modric

    layla, do you sneeze only in spring to autumn period (could be an allegy) or year round?

  • Jan Modric

    maryam,

    this could be from an allergy, for example to polens, or certain substances in the air or dust.

  • layla

    i just sneeze in winter but this time the weather is not very cold.but from the beginig of february i started to sneeze to much till this week,the sneezind decrease because the weather is hot.

  • Jan Modric

    layla,

    so sneezing is lessening now? Dry air due to indoor heating can trigger sneezing. Itch suggests an allergy, though.

  • raffi

    Hi
    Please help, i sneeze and blow my nose constantly, mostly during the morning and night time, the fit (if you can call it that) sometimes goes on for hours, sneezing 20 30 40 times and blowing my nose constantly for 2 to 3 hours. I do not suffer for hayfever, my house is always spotless and we live in a warm climate. I just dont no what to do i went to the doctors and they took a small amount of lining out of my nose, but nothing, it still continues. Please help.. thanks

  • Jan Modric

    raffi,

    for how long have you been sneezing, do you also sneeze during the day or when you sleep at some other place? Do you sneeze more if you lie down during the day? Two possible causes are an allergy to a certain fabric or furniture, and asthma.

  • raffi

    Hi

    Ive had problems sneezing and nose blowing for as long as i can remember, yes i always sneeze during the day, well sometimes yes sometimes no, for example last night, went to bed and nothing all night, no sneezing, no nose blowing(my husband was very happy), it happens when we stay at my parents house, my sisters house, ive had all sorts of doctors tests, food allergy tests, any kind of test you can think of, but the result is always the same, its still there, i just dont know whats wrong with me, or how to stop it, we have changed fabric cleaner, tried different shampoo, deodrants, even toothpastes, we have tried sleeping in different rooms in the house, basically we have tried everything. But no luck… Thanks for replying. raffi

  • Jan Modric

    raffi,

    it could maybe help you to find a cause if you can recall any sneezing-free period in your life and think what was different at that time. It is also importnat to know, if you sneeze mainly only when you lie down, or also when you’re standing. When you lie down, tissues in the nose swell a bit and can trigger sneezing. Any physical change in the nasal cavity or sinuses can trigger sneezing. I sneeze when I look at the sun or bright light. You can start a sneezing diary, and try to find a connection between sneezing and events immediately before sneezing or events/stress level/circumstances/weather…at that day.

  • Vladdi

    This is really driving me crazy. I spent two semesters in college in New Hampshire, the day after I got back, i started sneezing and getting an irritated runny nose whenever I get cold. I noticed if I go outside on a hot day when I am about to sneeze, the sneezing fit will almost instantly go away. It has been really bad at work because I work in a room that is kept cold where I need to stay as quiet as possible so the radiologist can read exams. I also get a runny nose and sneeze when I get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. If I know I need to go, but don’t move and just stay still, I am fine, seconds after I get up, the sneezing and congestion starts right up. But the air conditioner we have is kept so the room is cold, as my father likes very cold weather, while I prefer weather that is 90 degrees F or higher, depending on humidity.

  • Jan Modric

    Vladdi,

    obviously, you react to cold air. An ENT doctor may find the exact cause.

  • Dr. Chris

    Hi Vladdi

    A cold environment causes drying of the nasal passages. This irritates the lining and may trigger the sneeze reflex. Remember that sneezing is very similar to the cough reflex and often responds to the same stimuli (dry throat ~ cough, dry nasal lining ~ sneeze). Waking up in the morning and going into a sneezing fit is a sign of an allergic state (immune mediated hypersensitity). This may have been seen from childhood, if not as hay fever, then as eczema or even asthma. However, it can start up in later life. You should speak to a doctor about this as you may need to be on antihistamines over a prolonged period of time.

    Air conditioning dries up the air in the room excessively so it is not just an issue of cold but rather the moisture in the air. A lower setting may reduce this drying effect but if you cannot prevent this, like at work, then you will need to use a saline nasal spray at regular intervals to moisturize the lining of the nasal passages. This will help to prevent the problem but will not permanently “cure” it. Don’t use a decongestant nasal spray because this can actually aggravate the problem further. Speak to your pharmacist about a saline nasal spray specifically. Another option if you cannot avoid the air conditioning is to get an air humidifier in the room where you work or sleep. You can also speak to your pharmacist about this but there is no need to buy a specialized and expensive humidifier. A baby humidifier which is available at baby stores will do just as well and may be cheaper.

  • autumnsnow

    Hi, Im living in a place where its hot all year round. But I sneeze almost everyday. Even if its a hot day, I still sneeze. And sometimes I could sneeze five time consecutively (according to my sisters). And I realise that I could never clear the fluids from my nose. I would clear them and the next few seconds it comes back and my nose will be block. I have not known of any allergy now. Whats wrong?

  • Jan Modric

    autumnsnow,

    an allergy is possible, or a certain condition in your nasal cavity may irritate you. An ENT could give you a diagnosis.

  • layla

    Hi i want to know what’s going on with me because from last february i sneeze a lot especially when i wake up,when i go out side home and also when i cut onion.but last july i went to another city where the humedity is a littel bit high the sneezing stoped but when i came back to my town it came back.i want you to know that i easily be sick by cold in winter and i need about a month to be fine it starts with running nose and it ends with blokced nose.thank you

  • Jan Modric

    layla,

    it is possible you have a dry nasal mucosa – an ENT can help you to find a cause.

  • layla

    hi thanks for your help,but can you tell me what’s an ENT?

  • Jan Modric

    layla,

    a doctor that treats Ears, Nose and Throat

  • Harshal Patl

    Dear Sir,

    I am facing very so critical condition since 4 years because i have ALLERGY of nose in cool environment.
    I have problem of Blockage of Nose, Sneezing & itching in eyes, nose and throat also.
    Plz Helpppppppppp
    Thanks

  • Jan Modric

    Harshal Patl,

    a doctor for ears, nose and thraot (ENT) can examine you and say what can be done.

  • babita

    my daughter 6 yers old sneezes a lot almost 10-20 times continuously. In morning it happens much…..
    pls help..

  • Jan Modric

    babita,

    does she sneeze year round? Does she sneeze more when she’s indoors or outdoors? The first examination, a doctor would do is probably checking her nose and throat.

  • Dr. Chris

    Hi Babita

    Morning sneeze and sneezing fits like this is often associated with allergies, especially in children. Another common feature is itchy red eyes in the late afternoon/evening often accompanied by sneezing as well.

    Allergic rhinitis is a more likely cause especially if she has a history of eczema or asthma since early childhood. If it is year round (perrenial rhinitis) then it is more likely linked to food allergens like milk and dairy, house dust mite and animal hair. Seasonal rhinitis (hay fever) is more often due to flower, tree and grass pollen.

    You should speak to your doctor and possibly see an allergist (medical specialist focusing on allergies).