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What Causes Sneezing?

Sneezing is the body's attempt to rid the nasal passages of irritants.
Allergies to pollen are a cause of sneezing.
A parent can pass photic sneezing onto their children.
A runny nose can cause sneezing.
Nasal sprays may trigger sneezing.
Heroin withdrawal can cause sneezing.
Common symptoms of seasonal influenza include sneezing and chest congestion.
Dust allergies can lead to sneezing.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 14 October 2014
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Sneezing or sternutation, that quick blast of air out the nose and mouth, has many causes, but generally, it's the body's attempt to get rid of some material in the nasal passages. Often, people know what the source is: they may have runny noses from colds or flus, for example, which cause the mucous membranes in the sinus passages to become irritated. The body responds by attempting to clear these passages, causing an individual to sneeze.

At other times, allergies to pollens, dust, or molds cause sneezing. The nose, which is acting as a filtration device, works to remove these allergens from the body by expelling them. Since allergies entering the nose are often made up of tiny particles, it may take multiple attempts to do the trick of removing irritants. Furthermore, provided that the person remains in an environment with the offending allergens, she is likely to keep sneezing periodically.

Sometimes, cures for sneezing from allergies bring on larger ones. Using corticosteroid nasal sprays, for instance, can bring on a bout of sneezing. Again, the nose reacts at the introduction of a foreign agent, even if it is beneficial, and attempts to get rid of it. The nasal passages will also note the presence of irritating foreign agents that get in the nose, like pepper and certain other spices. Some people also sneeze after swimming for a while.

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One unusual cause is drug withdrawal from opiates. Opiates make up many different legal pain relievers, as well as several illegal drugs, like heroin. Anyone who has been taking opiates for a long period of time can have withdrawal symptoms once she stops taking them. These can include runny nose and sneezing that may be caused by nasal congestion. Some people appear to suffer from chronic runny nose as a result, and the presence of extra mucus in the sinuses is more likely to provoke the reaction.

There is one type of sneeze that has little to do with nasal irritants: the photic sneeze is an inherited reflex that affects about 20-35% of humans. What happens is that looking at bright light stimulates the optic nerve to send a wrong signal to the trigeminal nerve, which is thought to be the nerve responsible for sending a signal to create a sneeze. Some scientists consider photic sternutation as a congenital defect, but given the high number of people who experience this reaction when looking at light, it may simply be a natural variant.

Scientists do know that the issue is autosomal dominant in nature. In other words, if a child's parents sneeze when they get sudden exposure to sunlight, chances are that the child will too, and he has a good chance of passing this trait onto his children. Fortunately, a sneeze is seldom dangerous unless a person is pursuing an activity that requires constant vigilance. Someone who find himself having several in succession while driving, for instance, might want to pull to the side of the road until they have ended.

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Discuss this Article

anon276303
Post 8

Thank you so much for including photic sneeze in your article. I have wondered for years what was wrong with me, sneezing when I walked into bright sunlight. I knew it was impossible I was allergic to sunlight, but it kept happening nonetheless! Now I know why, thanks to you! It also explains why i sneeze uncontrollably when I use nasal spray.

anon229854
Post 7

I always sneeze out of my mouth, and everyone else I see sneeze does too. If it's really meant to blow something out of your nose, why does it blast out of your mouth?

anon197153
Post 6

I sneeze like crazy; 15 - 20, sometimes it feels like 100 times a day, and I have no idea where it comes from.

anon167921
Post 5

I sneeze about 20 times a day myself. I usually just tell people I have a sensitive nose, being a sensitive kind of guy. I guess I'm just used to it.

anon154541
Post 4

I liked your analysis of the situations that brings about sneezing. I think you left out one or two which may be did appear under foreign objects, I do not know.

They are: Accumulation of substances in the nasal tract but then the moment the sneezing occurs corresponds to some unusual response to a discussions taking place, sort of like an answer to or objection. It has happened a lot to me and considered so in my culture. When a topic is under discussion and one person sneezes, it is considered true or not, depending on the subject.

The second is something I needed you to talk about. There is a chemical substance in a certain plant, that brings about sneezing the moment you get into contact with it. We have used it to remedy stubborn nasal congestion and it works, the head clears and temporal relief is attained. You do not have to take in much. In fact, just smelling it brings about significant amount of action. I want to go and investigate this plant and see what it has. Deo O.

recapitulate
Post 3

@anon133654, do you have any other symptoms of an allergy? Perhaps you are allergic to something you use daily- a type of fabric in your clothes, or even a cosmetic product like face wash, shampoo, perfume, or shaving lotion. All of these things can contain ingredients which cause an allergic reaction in some people, but many of us don't think about it.

If you try a few things and still don't know, you could also go to an allergist for help.

DentalFloss
Post 2

I read once that your heart stops beating while you sneeze; while this is not totally true, it does go a bit out of sync, perhaps the reason people came to believe it stopped altogether.

anon133654
Post 1

I still have no known reason why i sneeze at least 15 times a day. Does anybody else do this?

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