Photic sneeze reflex: it'snot funny at all

V.L. Jackson By V.L. Jackson, 9th Jul 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Health>Alternative Medicine

No typo in the title; if the sun in your eyes sets your nose on explode mode, at least be assured you’re far from alone. Possibly up to thirty-five per cent of all people have this reaction. We may be messy and uncomfortable but we’re not freaks.

What is photic sneezing, and how can those suffering from it deal with the condition?

The sudden, irrepressible compulsion to sneeze when the sun, either directly or by a strong reflection, hits your eyes is known technically as photic sneeze reflex. Some physicians have told their patients this is an allergic reaction to the sun, but that’s far from true. Don’t worry, then, if this is your plight—you won’t need to take shots, and you can skip antihistamines or other pills, because none of these remedies will have any effect. The cause is strictly in your heritage—photic sneezing is caused by an autosomal-dominant gene causing such an abnormality. It can be passed on by either parent (isn’t it nice to be able to blame this on your mother or father?) and quite likely you will pass it on to your own offspring (so they’ll have something to blame you for as well). Imagine a whole family of photic sneezers at a family picnic, all snorting and spreading their yuckiness as the sun shines into their eyes! Makes you want to hide in the dark, doesn’t it?

Some experts in this sneezing sensation blame the effect of the sun’s stimulation on the trigeminal nerve, one of which lies buried inside each side of the face. Those who also have suffered from that annoying non-dental toothache, related to pressure on this nerve from the ear (as when fluid builds up inside there) are already familiar with what a pain, literally, the trigeminal can be. If the sun entering the pupils, then striking the retinas, gets its signals crossed and stimulates those facial nerves as well as telling the pupils to contract, bingo! Your nose gets the notion that it has been irritated by something it needs to expel at once.

Aside from playing vampire and never going out in daylight again, what can be done about photic sneezing? You can wear dark sunglasses whenever going into bright light. It helps as well to carry lots of fresh tissues. Perhaps it would be wise, too, to warn others accompanying you that you may experience a severe nasal emission with little warning. Depending on the volume and quality of the mucous substances being sprayed at random, your companions may wish to carry umbrellas and lots of hand sanitizer. It may turn out that your ailment alienates some people who tend towards germ phobia. Despite your assurances that your condition is not contagious, many are those who take no chances when it comes to being exposed to the contents of another’s nasal equipment. If you are also one of those who sneezes via the mouth, you also may find it best to eat alone. No one likes to have samples of another person’s meal all over them.

Some of us find squinting a bit and shielding the eyes with a hat, such as a baseball cap, to be a good form of protection from the solar assaults on our sensitive pupils. Giving the eyes less opportunity to have the harmful rays penetrate them is about as preventive as you can manage while exposed. Even in a vehicle or indoors, you may find reflected light strong enough to trigger a reaction. Your best bet is to position yourself where you will least be likely to have your reflex activated. Some may refer to this as being where the sun doesn’t shine, although that phrase can be taken in a couple of ways.

Photic sneezing has been around for countless ages, as Aristotle mused on its causes, as well as other luminaries in the medical and scientific fields since then. None of them found any genuine connection to what started it all; perhaps no one ever will, considering it isn’t exactly a pressing issue. What little research has been done has come up with a new label for it: Autosomal-dominant Compelling Helio-Opthalmic Outburst syndrome—or, as an acronym, ACHOO. Appropriate, amusing, and well, frankly, not much else.

Perhaps the military could find a way to trigger this reflex in our country’s enemies, causing their pilots to automatically close their eyes involuntarily while flying. At one time the syndrome was considered possible grounds for rejection of fighter pilot candidates. A soldier on the ground could also be disabled for a split second by a mirrored light hitting his/her eyes, causing a delay in shooting, launching grenades, etc. The same technique has been used during cycling races at times to cause racers to crash.

Whatever the causes or possible treatments for this syndrome, there will certainly be someone, whether a military leader, a pharmaceutical company, or sunglasses manufacturer, who will come along sooner or later to exploit it and make money off those carrying this gene. Even if it isn’t currently a major medical concern, such an entrepreneur won’t consider ACHOO anything to sneeze at.

For more information on photic sneeze reflex or ACHOO, see this excellent article:


Genetic Inheritance, Holistic Health, Natural Remedies

Meet the author

author avatar V.L. Jackson
Born in Detroit, MI, have also lived in Ontario, Canada (various locations), currently in Los Angeles, CA. Have certificates in Holistic Health, Clinical Nutrition, and Herbal Medicine.

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