Sneezing From The Sun Is Not An Allergy~ It Is Called Photic Sneeze Reflex

Photic Sneeze Reflex can be annoying, but it is harmless

Sneezing can be a reaction to an irritant in the nose, or due to exposure to bright light. When bright light is the cause, it is called a Photic sneeze reflex.
Sneezing can be a reaction to an irritant in the nose, or due to exposure to bright light. When bright light is the cause, it is called a Photic sneeze reflex. | Source
Photic sneeze reflex, or sneezing caused by sunlight is harmless, even if it is sometimes annoying.
Photic sneeze reflex, or sneezing caused by sunlight is harmless, even if it is sometimes annoying. | Source
Aww, kitties even sneeze sometimes (I know both of ours do) but in cats it is in response to either a virus or something in the nose. In our kitties case, we think it's caused by dust irritation from living in the desert.
Aww, kitties even sneeze sometimes (I know both of ours do) but in cats it is in response to either a virus or something in the nose. In our kitties case, we think it's caused by dust irritation from living in the desert. | Source

It Affects 17 to 33 (or 18 to 35) Percent Of People

I have this weird little quirk thing, I sneeze from the sun! I used to say "I must be allergic to the sun" for lack of anything else to call it. But then I looked for information and found that a true allergy to the sun shows up as a skin rash, nope, don't have that. What I DO have is this weird SNEEZE reflex thing whenever I'm exposed to bright sun. All I have to do is have sun in front of me, and I begin to sneeze. Or if I ever WANT to sneeze for some reason, if I feel a sneeze coming on that isn't happening, I just look directly at light and "Achoo!".

I never thought too much about it, and I certainly never thought to ask a physician about it because it really doesn't bother me... I just thought it was some strange "quirk" thing that I have. THEN, I was searching for something unrelated on the internet and came across something about the sun making people sneeze... so naturally I was interested. I pretty much stumbled on the information by accident. It's always nice to find that you are not the only one that has strange things happen to them, there are others, too!

What I found out is that there really is a "syndrome" that affects 17 to 33 (or 18 to 35, depending on what source you read) percent of the population, and that it is a sneeze reflex known as photic sneeze reflex that happens when exposed to sunlight. Now we're getting somewhere! I also found out that the MAIN group that this affects are women who happen to be Caucasian. How strange is that?

I was interested so I kept reading. I guess this is something that is passed down genetically, and only one parent has to have the genetics. As a result, fifty percent of their children will have this "syndrome" known as Photic sneeze reflex. It's also known by one of those long names that uses a whole bunch of vowels (the way medical terms sometimes do) known as Photoptarmosis, or "sun-sneezing." It's even sometimes called the "Peroutka Sneeze Gene". Finally, I have a name (or several names) for this strange phenomenon that I have had for many years that I usually would explain away as "I must be allergic to the sun!"

Supposedly, this is due to a nerve that malfunctions in what is known as the trigeminal nerve nuclei which sits very close to the optic nerve. This trigeminal nerve is what causes one to sneeze. Since the optic nerve is so close, in some people if the optic nerve is stimulated by sudden exposure to bright light, the sneeze reflex is triggered.

I did find some good news about this, it is relatively harmless. It can be annoying, but not dangerous. Unless of course, a person is driving or flying a plane and needs to concentrate on the road or space ahead of them. I read that if a pilot is aware that they have this reflex, wearing sunglasses sometimes helps. I guess antihistamines can be used if it becomes a big problem. But for most people that have this reflex, it doesn't cause a big enough problem to warrant the need for any kind of medication.

There was an Optometry school in Alabama that studied photic sneezing, and they found that 67 percent of people with this reflex are women, and 95 percent of those are also Caucasian. It seemed strange to me that an Optometry school was doing a study like this, until I read that one of the strange things about this reflex occurs when a person is about to have eye surgery. Apparently, if an injection of a local anesthetic is to be given into a person's eye, known as a periocular injection (meaning surrounding the eye) the way that an injection might be given prior to eye surgery, the injection can trigger this sneeze reflex in those that have this problem.

It is helpful if you do have this Photic sneeze reflex to let your eye doctor know if you are supposed to undergo any kind of eye surgery. That way, they can watch for signs that a sneeze may occur, and the anesthesiologist can remove the needle in time to avoid harm to the eye. I'm glad I found this information, because my Dad has had several eye surgeries since he entered his 70's. It's good that I am aware of this issue in case I ever need eye surgery as I age.

Another strange thing that I read about this phenomenon is that some people begin sneezing right after they've eaten a big meal. I've never had this kind of sneezing happen, but supposedly it is related to Photic sneezing in some way.

In those that sneeze normally, sneezing is usually in response to something in the nose, something irritating it, that causes a person to sneeze. People with this Photic sneeze reflex have additional sneezing that occurs when exposed to bright light, and they also have normal sneezing that occurs at other times.

If a person who needs to operate machinery knows that they have a problem with this, they can try wearing polarized sunglasses. If they tend to sneeze just once or twice it probably won't cause a problem, but some people have an uncontrolled sneezing fit of up to ten sneezes in a row. This is when it would cause a problem, especially for someone in an occupation such as pilot. For most people who have this, it is very manageable and just something to be aware of. Just another of those quirks that makes a person an individual I guess.

For me, it's not too bad, I usually sneeze once or twice, then I'm ok again. I just found it interesting that I am not alone with this issue, there are others with the same experience, and there is even a name for it (or several names). It's amazing the things we can learn with a bit of curiosity and a computer!


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Comments 19 comments

Eric Calderwood profile image

Eric Calderwood 4 years ago from USA

My brother and I both sneeze in response to bright sunlight. Not a big deal, just one sneeze upon looking at the light, and then everything is fine. You are right though, it does help when you already have to sneeze. If I need to sneeze and it doesn't happen naturally, I just look at a light source and blink a few times and that does it for me. The funny thing is that some people don't believe you when you tell them about it. I once sneezed coming out of a building and into bright light, and another person I was with said, you did not sneeze because of the light. I hadn't even suggested it to them!


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

What an interesting and informative hub. I do know some people who sneeze when in sunlight, I will have to pass this info on to them. I had a smile about your cat's sneezing. Our cat used to do that on occasion as well.


KathyH profile image

KathyH 4 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada Author

I know exactly what you mean, Eric! :) People don't believe it at first! I know that whenever I get in the car with my husband to go someplace, I will usually sneeze as we're backing out of the driveway. I jokingly tell him I'm allergic to HIM! Ha!!! I can look at a light and make myself sneeze as well, which can be useful sometimes when you feel a sneeze coming on and you just want to get it over with! Thanks for reading and commenting, I appreciate that! :)


KathyH profile image

KathyH 4 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada Author

Thanks, teaches12345, I'm so glad you found this useful! I had NO idea that this was even a real thing that happened to others, and that it even has a name! When either of our kitties sneeze I say "God Bless the kitty who sneezes!" They look at me like I'm cracking up! :) It's SO cute when they sneeze, though! Thanks so much for reading and commenting!


Sheena Hayes profile image

Sheena Hayes 4 years ago from Fayetteville, North Carolina

This is amazing! I have that! Never knew it, of course, but I sneeze whenever I look at bright lights. How strange.


KathyH profile image

KathyH 4 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada Author

Glad you were able to learn something new today, Sheena! :) I never knew it either until I came across it on the internet. Thanks so much for reading and commenting! :)


Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 4 years ago from southern USA

Very interesting hub Kathy. I had no clue about such.


always exploring profile image

always exploring 4 years ago from Southern Illinois

This is a new phonomenon, never heard of this. Interesting topic...


Pamspages profile image

Pamspages 4 years ago from Virginia

Great hub! I suffer from this too! Thanks for the interesting stats. Pam


Bishopdown profile image

Bishopdown 4 years ago from Tampa, Florida

A very cool and informal hub, Kathy. I was always curious about different triggers that make people sneeze. I also, wonder if anyone else sees little strands of light after they sneeze? It's kinda of like what going through light speed may look like from a Star Wars or Star Trek movie.


KathyH profile image

KathyH 4 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada Author

Thanks Faith, always exploring and Pam! I'm glad it was helpful, it helped me too finding out that this is a real thing and that others have it! Thanks for reading and commenting! ;)

Hi Bishopdown! I don't know about the little strands of light, but I wonder if that could be related to this? Thanks for your thoughtful comment! :) Glad you learned something, too. :)


charlesxavier04 profile image

charlesxavier04 4 years ago from London

Thanks for this very informative hub. I have had hay fever for many years now and know how hard it can be to live with. It's nice to hear above people are in the same boat!


KathyH profile image

KathyH 4 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada Author

Thanks charlesxavier04! It is definitely an annoying thing, but I was glad to find out that others share the same experience. Thanks for reading and commenting! :)


shiningirisheyes profile image

shiningirisheyes 4 years ago from Upstate, New York

I never realized that other people had this. I thought it was only my mother and I. Very informative hub. Thanks


KathyH profile image

KathyH 4 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada Author

You're welcome, smilingirisheyes! Glad it was helpful! :) Thank you for reading and commenting! :)


mefajf07300302 4 years ago

I am also phased by this! Every time I step out the door and its bright out I can't stop sneezing besides annoying it stuffs me up for about 1/2 an hour


KathyH profile image

KathyH 4 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada Author

That is definitely annoying mefajf07300302! Thanks so much for reading and commenting! :)


lily 4 years ago

This also happens to me and two of my siblings. But if i need to sneeze and i look at the light, it does not help any.


KathyH profile image

KathyH 4 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada Author

Hi Lily! Thanks for reading and commenting. That' s one of the nice things about the Internet, if something happens to you that you think is kind of unusual, sometimes you learn that it happens to others too, and that can be helpful. Thanks so much!

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