Photic Sneeze Reflex (Sneezing at the Sun): Why Does It Happen?

Photic sneeze reflex is a condition characterized by sudden bouts of sneezing on exposure to bright sunlight or any light. People afflicted with this condition are also colloquially called sun sneezers. Photic sneeze reflex is not a serious disease but more of a nuisance to the sufferer. According to an estimate, at least 30 percent of people in United States suffer from this condition. The photic sneeze occurs in 5 to 10 bouts of sneezes when a person susceptible to this phenomenon transits from dark environment to bright sunlight. Actually it has nothing to do with the wavelength of light, but the reflex sneeze occurs from the intensity of light.

The exact cause of photic sneeze reflex is not known, but there are multiple theories put forth by researchers. One therapy suggests a glitch in trigeminal nerve may be responsible for it. Another believes it to be a genetic trait. Whatever, is the cause, there is no specific treatment. However, certain herbs are useful to evade such episodes when you go out in sunlight, if you are a sun sneezer.

Causes of Photic Sneezing:

The research work for photic sneezing is not in-depth. This condition is not paid much attention to. The exact cause of photic sneeze reflex is yet not been known.

However, several theories have been postulated. According to researchers, it is believed to be associated genetically. The condition is afflicted in men and women equally. One study suggests it is more common in people of Caucasian origin.

Another theory suggests that cases of solar sneezing are caused due to minor fault in the wiring system of trigeminal nerve. This cranial nerve is the largest nerve carrying sensory impulses from the brain. The nerve is divided into three main branches which distribute its tributaries to jaw, eyes, nose, and mouth. In case of people suffering from photic sneezing the trigeminal nerve gets wrong reflex signals. When you move into bright light from dark area, your pupils normally contract. This signal may also be sent to mucus membrane of the nose mistakenly by the trigeminal nerve. This causes stimulation in the mucus membrane which results in sneezing.

Some researchers believe it is a genetic trait. And they have labeled the condition as ACHOO syndrome (autosomal dominant compelling helio ophthalmic outburst). The gene responsible is located on one of the chromosome. If only one parent has this problem he can pass it to his or her child.

Signs and Symptoms of Photic Reflex Sneezing:

The commonest sign of photic reflex sneezing is bouts of sneezing as soon as the person is exposed to sunlight or any bright light. Such people sneeze for at least 5 to 10 times which is followed by a period of recovery which lasts for 24 hours. The problem is related with the intensity of the light. The susceptible person may start sneezing if he comes out from dimly lit room to bright light. Although the symptoms of photic reflex sneeze are not serious or harmful, sometimes it can be troublesome. For example while driving vehicle or while concentrating on certain work. Episodes of sneeze may cause hindrance in the work or driving.


As such there is no specific treatment yet known that can stop photic reflex sneeze. However, several herbal home remedies have been found useful in reducing the problem. Here are some important home remedies that can be tried.

  • Peppermint oil: Peppermint oil contains certain chemicals which causes decongestion of the nasal passage and reduces violent sneezing. Add few drops of peppermint oil to boiled water. Place a towel over your head and inhale stem generated from the boiled water.
  • If peppermint oil treatment is not possible when you are in sunlight and sneezing. Try chamomile tea. Add a readymade teabag of chamomile tea in boiling water. Let the tea steep for 5 to 10 minutes. Drink one cup of this tea. The anti histamine properties of chamomile helps to reduce sneezing.
  • Take few black cumin seeds in a handkerchief. Wrap it and inhale the smell through the handkerchief few times before you feel bout of sneezing.

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