12 Weird Things That Make People Sneeze
A glass of wine, a workout, the mere thought of sex? Seriously, all three of those can trigger sneezing fits—here’s why.
Looking at the sun or bright lights
If you’ve ever looked at the sun and sneezed, you’re part of the 10 to 35 per cent of the population who experiences something called photic sneeze reflex. This condition is also appropriately referred to as ACHOO Syndrome (Autosomal Dominant Compelling Helio-Ophthalmic Outburst Syndrome). Photic sneeze reflex typically is inherited and occurs when the sun or other bright lights overstimulate the optic nerve. In turn, the trigeminal nerve, which runs alongside the optic nerve and controls sneezing, is triggered, resulting in an achoo.
Drinking carbonated beverages
Believe it or not, your body can sometimes perceive the carbonation in sparkling beverages as pain. The carbon dioxide in bubbly beverages sets off the tongue’s sour receptors, which are designed to sense dangerous chemicals. If the receptors send a strong signal to the brain, it may interpret the signal as pain and set off a series of defensive responses like tearing up, coughing, and yes, sneezing.
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Having or thinking about sex
Yes, just thinking about sex can lead to a sneezing fit. Whether the sneezing occurs as a result of sexual thoughts or after a physical orgasm, the scientific name for sex-related sneezing is post-coital exacerbation of rhinitis, also known as honeymoon rhinitis. Although there is no exact explanation for this phenomenon, research suggests that when you experience intense emotions, your body’s parasympathetic system, which regulates body responses like sexual pleasure and the sneeze reflex, mistakenly sets off a sneeze.
Breathing in cold air
You expect to sneeze in the winter from colds and the flu, but not from cold air alone. For some, that’s exactly what happens: The trigeminal nerve—responsible for the sensations your face feels—also get signals from the sensitive lining of the nasal passages. In some people, the wires get crossed, and a blast of cold air can trigger the impulses to sneeze.
Experiencing strong emotions
Whether it’s fear, frustration, sadness, or excitement, experiencing strong emotions is another weird reason some people sneeze. Being fearful can cause the nasal membranes to shrink, while other intense emotions can cause the nasal membranes to swell. Both the shrinking and swelling of the membranes can result in sneezing. Similarly, it’s possible for strong emotions to “rub off” on others in groups of bonded friends, leading to even more sneezing.
Eating dark chocolate
This could qualify as a tragedy: A taste of dark chocolate can activate the same photic sneeze reflex as the sun. This condition is most likely genetic and hits about 18 to 35 per cent of the North American population. Milk and white chocolate are still on the menu, though: It seems to take at least 70 per cent cacao dark chocolate for the reflex to kick in.
While overeating might result in a stomachache for some, it makes a few people sneeze. This sensation is due to a response that researches jokingly call the snatiation reflex. “Satiated” means you feel full; combine that with “sneeze,” and you get “snatiation.” The name has stuck because the phenomenon is real—the feeling of fullness can set off uncontrolled sneezing fits in some people.
Plucking your eyebrows
You can thank the ophthalmic (eye-related) branch of your trigeminal nerve for this one: The nerves transmit sensations from the nose, eyebrows, eyelids, and other parts of the face to the brain, and when those nerves are stimulated—such as when plucking hair—your body could react with a sneeze.
Drinking red wine
Some people—particularly those of Asian descent, according to the Auckland Allergy Clinic—can have an allergy-like reaction to high levels of histamines in red wine. (White wine has much lower levels.) The immune system reacts to the histamines by trying to flush them out of nasal airways—leading to teary and itchy eyes, a runny nose, and sneezing.
Taking a hot shower
If your skin turns red or itchy after a hot shower, you may also be susceptible to a sneezing fit as well—that’s an allergy-like reaction triggered by a sudden rise in body temperature.
Eating hot or spicy foods
A similar reaction could make you sneeze when noshing on spicy stuff, thanks to a condition called gustatory rhinitis. Usually as a result of the nasal nerves being hypersensitive to outside triggers, it can lead to sneezing, a runny nose, or congestion after eating certain foods—especially spicy ones.
If you have allergies, mornings can be tough. It’s very common for those with allergic rhinitis to experience intense sneezing fits first thing in the a.m., most likely because the allergens have been building up in your sleep—especially in the early morning hours, when pollen counts are highest. As you rub your eyes and breathe deeply, your allergies kick in and the sneezing commences.
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