- Diseases, Disorders & Conditions
Sneezing From The Sun Is Not An Allergy~ It Is Called Photic Sneeze Reflex
Photic Sneeze Reflex can be annoying, but it is harmless
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!