Diseases & Conditions


SneezeCausesPreventionTherapiesEvaluationMechanismStimuliWhy People Sneeze

What is Sneeze?

A sneeze or sternutation is a sudden, involuntary and forceful burst of air through the mouth or nose of a person which is caused due to some irritation to the nasal mucus membranes or throat. A sneeze is not a very serious condition, but it can be a nuisance.

Causes for a Sneeze

  • Allergens such as pollen, animal dander, mold, dust (hay fever) can trigger sneezing.
  • Nasal irritants like powders and dust.
  • Drug withdrawal
  • Infections caused by viruses such as the common cold, flu, upper respiratory tract infections.

Prevention of Sneezes

There are several prevention techniques which can be used to stop the onset of sneezing. Deep inhalation of air that was meant to be sneezed out, keeping eyes open, crinkling the nose and holding one’s breath while counting to ten can all stop the actual act of sneezing. Avoiding exposure to allergens is the most effective way to control sneezes.

To reduce the sneezes, a person needs to avoid irritants. If a pet’s dander is causing sneezing bouts, it should be kept out of the house. Dirt and dust particles should be removed on a continuous and regular basis. Furnace filters, humidifiers and air filtration devices should be replaced from time to time.

Therapy for Sneezes

The first line of treatment for a sternutation is administration of anti histamines which cause the allergies. For chronic conditions, nasal sprays may be recommended.

Immunotherapy or hyposensitization, also referred to as allergy shots, may be given for sneezing if it occurs through out the year and cannot be treated by other drugs due to various side effects.

Evaluation of a Sneeze

The physician may conduct a physical examination of the affected person, particularly of the upper respiratory tract. He will most likely ask for a medical history of the person and ask several questions. The doctor may want to find out:

  • When sneezing began
  • When it is worse, the time of day or year
  • How long the sneezing episodes last
  • If the person has a medical history of allergies
  • If the person has been outdoors more often recently
  • If the person have pets
  • What the person has done to relieve sneezing
  • If self treatment has worked

For accurate diagnosis of sneezing, allergy testing may be required.

Mechanism of a Sneeze

Sufficient amounts of external stimulants or foreign particles get inhaled and pass through nasal hairs to reach nasal mucosa, triggering the release of histamines. These histamines irritate the nasal nerve cells and result in brain signals sent to the brain to start sneezing process through trigeminal nerve network. The tracheal and pharyngeal muscles are activated, oral and nasal cavities are opened and air along with bioparticles is released in a forceful manner.

Sneezing is a reflexive response that involves facial, chest and throat muscles.

Stimuli for a Sneeze

  • Photo sternutation reflex which is caused when a person is suddenly exposed to bright light.
  • Sneeze can also be triggered by sinus allergies and infections that stimulate the sinus nerve
  • A rare kind of trigger for sneezes is a full stomach. Some people experience sneezing after a large meal. Such a condition is hereditary (it is an autosomal dominant trait) and is called snatiation.

Why People Sneeze

A person sneezes to expel mucus which contains some irritants or foreign particles. When a person sneezes, the nasal cavity is cleansed. The ulva and soft palate get depressed whereas the back part of the tongue elevates, partially closing the mouth passages and allowing the air ejected from the lungs to be expelled through the nose. Since the mouth only closes partially, a significant amount of air is also expelled through the mouth. The extent of expulsion and the force of the air that travels through the nose vary.