Photic Sneeze Reflex

At the end of this column, Cecil said

As the note shows, Cecil solved “the pompatus of love”. So, how’s he coming on that PSR issue?

Along the lines of mysterious sneezes –

For as long as I can remember I’ve had occasional sneezing ‘fits.’ I’ll be sitting, working quietly or just reading or watching tv, and I’ll sneeze. Then again. Over and over. Usually 5 or 6 times, but it’s been as many as nine (Yes, I count, what else can you do while sneezing?) And then it’s over until the next time. This happens maybe twice a month, but not on any regular schedule.

The thing is, this doesn’t seem to be related to anything else. Like I said, I’m generally sitting still in doors, so it’s not like I’ve suddenly stirred up dust. I have no allergies, not to food or drugs. I don’t react to pollen. It never develops into a cold and I have no other symptoms. For example, my nose doesn’t run before or during or afterwards, I don’t have a sore throat or any body pains at all. No fever. Nothing. I just sneeze like a maniac five or whatever times and then the last sneeze sort of aborts – you know, you inhale and inhale and inhale and then the urge to sneeze just vanishes. Sneezus Interruptus.

I don’t expect there’s a real answer to this mini-mystery but I was wondering if anyone else experiences this?

I read a theory somewhere that it had to do with crossed nerves, so that eye irritation due to bright light is registered as nose irritation.

That’s kinda what it feels like to me. As soon as I walk out in the bright sunlight, I feel an irritation in my nose and I have to sneeze. When I was a kid, I used to describe it as being “allergic to the sun,” because that’s really what it felt like. I breathed in sunny air and I sneezed.

Exactly the same with me.

I think it’s not just looking at the sun itself, the act of looking upwards into the sky on a sunny day when there’s lots of light about can trigger it. Although the closer to the sun you look the more violent and immediate the sneeze. And I always sneeze three times never two or four.

I like it. It’s great being able to have a good sneeze on cue just by glancing upwards.

Another photic sneezer here! I’m so glad Cecil’s tackling this question.

As a kid, I also called it being “allergic to the sun”!

I read that theory too. It makes much more sense than the tear duct one - as Cecil’s specialist said, the reaction happens too quickly. I also think that tears in my nasal passage would cause irritation before sneezing, probably like getting dust up your nose or maybe worse, and the photic sneezes don’t feel like that. They’re pleasant, satisfying sneezes (although startling sometimes!)

According to whatever source I was reading, the nerves don’t even have to be crossed - they can be so close together that one can trigger the other. I like to talk about it that way when I have to explain my photic sneezing to people, because it suggests that the “sneezing nerve” and the “light nerve” (very scientific) can be closer and farther away from each other in different individuals, to varying degrees. That would account for why I’ve been able to teach some of my friends, who aren’t photic sneezers, to look at a lightbulb or the sun when they feel like they’re about to sneeze, but can’t quite get there. It works for some of them, but not all of them.

I wonder… does the trigger work the other way around as well? I experience weird things visually during the brief half-moment when I sneeze, and I would describe it as an exploding light effect, but maybe this is completely normal, since you’re squeezing your eyes tightly and having 1/8 of an orgasm. I’ve never sneezed in a different person’s body, so it’s a mystery. :confused:


“Sixty-four percent of children with one sneezing parent were themselves sneezers, but two nonsneezers never produced a sneezer.”

Since I am a sneezer and both of my parents are nonsneezers, I can declare that, although clearly rare, the event is not impossible!

Ah. So, was your mailman a sneezer?

I worked as an usher at a movie theater in Saginaw, Michigan from 1985-1987. Easily 1/3 of the people leaving a movie during daylight hours would sneeze when coming out of the darkened theater and into the sunny lobby.

I too am a photic sneezer. Gotta love that this sort of thing has a name. Instead of just saying “I sneeze when I walk outside into the sun; guess I’m weird,” I can say “I have photic sneeze reflex. Most people don’t have it. I’m special!” Thanks, Straight Dope. :slight_smile:

By the way…

Two or three?!? Now that’s just freakish. :wink:

I sneeze in bright lights too, but only if the sneeze is kinda there and it needs a push. Just looking at the sun doesn’t usually trigger it.

Hi - I’m Al and I’m a photic sneezer. Usually a facefull of photons will trigger a series of seven sneezes - not six, not eight SEVEN. Apparently the stimulus caused by the light is repeatably precise enough to trigger the exact same response.

Furthermore, I was unfortunate enough to have Shingles on the left side of my face a few years ago when I was just 40 due to long tern Prednisone use. The weird part is when the Shingles pain was really bad, it felt like I had the mother of all sneezes built up but I couldn’t actually do the deed. That often lasted for hours! Only when the nerve inflammation died down was I able to sneeze. Maybe the initial inflammation of the Shingles was so great that it prevented sneezing until it decreased to a “normal” level. I still have PHN pain and the PSR doesn’t make it any easier.

I guess the sneeze nerve was part of the nerve bundle that got nuked by my Shingles. Too bad PSR isn’t some sexy disease that attracts the big research bucks or I’d have docs beating a path to my door. :smiley: