IMPORTANT The information provided is of a general nature and should not be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you think you may suffer from an allergic or other disease that requires attention, you should discuss it with your family doctor. The content of the information articles and all illustrations on this website remains the intellectual property of Dr Raymond Mullins and cannot be reproduced without written permission.

Almost anything that irritates the nose can trigger a sneezing fit, including dust, strong smells, temperature changes and infections. Unfortunately, those with sneezing due to severe allergies or hay fever have a miserable time, and end up physically and emotionally exhausted.

Sneezing is the body's way of removing irritants
Almost anything that irritates the nose can trigger a sneezing fit, including dust, strong smells, temperature changes and infections. Allergic people also sneeze, because they release irritant chemicals like histamine into the nose when they come into contact with allergens like dust mite, pollens or animals. Histamine irritates nerve endings (triggering sneeze and itch), makes bloods vessels in the nose swell and leak fluid (blocked nose) and drives mucus glands to work harder (runny nose). That is why antihistamines can help allergies.

Sneezing is hard work
Sneezing is a complex reflex. It starts with irritation of the lining of the nose, and ends in an explosion of air from the nose and mouth. Nerve impulses travel from the nose to the brain, then back to other nerves that control the muscle of the abdomen, chest, diaphragm, neck, face and eyelids as well as the mucus glands and blood vessels of the nose. That's why we always end up closing our eyes when we sneeze, and why the nose often runs afterwards.

Getting rid of the “bad humors”
Some cultures have considered sneezing as a sign of good fortune whereas others have seen it as an omen of death. Indeed, the saying "God Bless You" is thought to have arisen during the Bubonic Plague of the 6th century, where sneezing was one of its early symptoms.

Unusual facts about sneezing
The material spread by sneezing can travel 2-3 metres, at a speed of around 150 km/hour, so it's a very efficient way of spreading germs. Some people sneeze when they pluck their eyebrows, get cold or go out into the sun. "Sun sneezing (Photic sneezing)" often runs in families, and occurs in around one in four people. The world record for sneezing is held by Donna Griffiths from Worstershire in the UK, who sneezed for 978 days in a row, stopping on 16 September 1983 ( ). For those with hay fever, it's also very hard to avoid exposure to allergic triggers. Allergen has been found in underwater submarines, in scuba tanks, the Antarctic and even in space! (In space, no one can hear you sneeze?) Some even credit the development of movies to Thomas Edison’s serial photos of Fred Ott sneezing in 1894.

Sneezing can also be debilitating
Allergy affects 1 in 5 Australians, yet is often considered more a nuisance than a major disease. Unfortunately, those with severe allergies have a miserable time, and end up physically and emotionally exhausted. Severe allergies have a major impact on quality of life, sleep quality, mood, work performance in adults and learning in children. Severe hay fever is also associated with a number of medical complications, such as more frequent sinus and middle ear infections, and harder to control asthma. Fortunately, a number of safe and effective treatments are available.

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Last reviewed 29 May 2020