By Solaade Ayo-Aderele
Have you ever been around someone who sneezes on end, especially when they step into bright lights and you end up getting tired of saying “bless you” each time they sneeze, in addition to being worried about the implications for your health?
Well, the medical world has a name for the condition — it is called photic sneeze reflex.
Experts say the condition is passed along genetically as an autosomal dominant trait; and the probable cause is a congenital malfunction in nerve signals in the trigeminal nerve nucleus (that is, the principal sensory nerve of the head).
Generally, doctors say, sneezing is caused by an irritation of the lining of your nose. According to family physician, Dr. Grace Odeleke, “When you sneeze, it shows that something is probably irritating or tickling the interior of your nose. So, it is your body’s way of removing an irritation from your nose.”
Again, common cold can make you sneeze, in addition to causing a runny nose, nasal congestion, sore throat, cough, headache, or other symptoms.
Indeed, experts say while sneezing may be bothersome, it is rarely a sign of a serious problem; and that sneezing that is not due to an allergy will disappear when the illness that is causing it is cured or treated.
That is not to say that you should expose yourself to sneezing, though; as experts do warn that cold virus spreads through tiny, air droplets that are released when a sick person sneezes, coughs, or blows his nose!
Odeleke warns, “Sneezes contribute to the spread of viruses, germs, and disease, carrying with them whatever ailments and contaminations of the individual through the air and onto objects.”
She advises that when sneezing begins to affect your life and when home remedies do not work, it may be time to see the doctor. This is because the sneezing may not necessarily be due to ‘simple’ irritation and it may be symptoms of allergic rhinitis — a group of symptoms that affect the nose.
Odeleke says these symptoms occur when you breathe in something you are allergic to.
Experts say in some cases, people (especially children) may outgrow an allergy as their immune system becomes less sensitive to the allergen. They, however, warn that once a substance causes allergies, it usually continues to affect the person over the long term.
Scientists say anything that can irritate the inside of your nose can start a sneeze. And such things include dust, cold air, pollution, pepper, insect venom, animal fur, pollen grain from some plants, and even withdrawal from certain drugs, among others.
Despite the negative feelings that those exposed to other people’s sneeze may have, physicians say sneezing is an important part of the immune process, as it helps to keep us healthy.
Allergy and asthma specialist at the Allergic Disease and Asthma Centre in Greenville, South Carolina, Dr. Neil Kao, says, “Sneezes protect your body by clearing the nose of bacteria and viruses.”
She adds that when something enters your nose or you encounter a trigger that sets off the ‘sneeze centre’ in your brain, “signals are rapidly sent to tightly close your throat, eyes, and mouth. Next, your chest muscles vigorously contract, and then your throat muscles quickly relax. As result, air — along with saliva and mucus — is forced out of your mouth and nose. Voila, you’ve sneezed.”
Good sneezing habits
Do not hold your nose or block your mouth while sneezing. Doing so can cause serious injury. The force and velocity of the average sneeze, if prevented from ejection from the body, can eventually cause hearing loss and damage the blood vessels in your head, especially if you make a habit of stopping a sneeze when it’s already begun.
•If you’re around others, you risk spreading harmful bacteria when you let one (or two or three or maybe even four) out into the air. The ‘spray’ you emit can reach up to five feet away from you! That’s a radius that encompasses a lot of people. So, be careful!
•If you can, sneeze into a tissue and dispose of the tissue. If a tissue isn’t available, sneeze into your sleeve. If you do end up sneezing into your hands, be sure to wash them afterwards. Your hands touch doorknobs, your face, surfaces, and other people constantly. And, if you happen to be away from water, carry hand sanitiser to save the day.
•When you’re in a group of people, you’ll surely be given the evil eye if you wind up for a sneeze and deliver with flying success. You’re spreading germs and disrupting the flow, so it’s best to sneeze as discretely as possible.
•Sneezing into your elbow can diffuse the sound. If that’s not an option, grab a tissue, tilt your head down, and sneeze as quietly as possible.
•If you have a broken rib, a sneeze can hurt very badly. Exhale as much air from your lungs as you can. This will reduce the amount of pressure placed on your ribs and weaken the sneeze greatly, and the pain will be less.
•Really, if anything in your core hurts, a sneeze can be the last thing you want to encounter. Take the precautions listed above, but concentrate on the exhale. With little air to expel, your insides won’t lurch, preventing the sneeze from having a longer-lasting effect.
•Make it a habit to carry a tissue or handkerchief with you at all times, so that you don’t feel the need to withhold a sneeze unnecessarily.
•If you do sneeze, take precautions to not spread disease. Many doctors now recommend sneezing into the inside of the elbow rather than the hands to discourage the spread of germs. At the very least, you should cover your mouth and nose so as to prevent spraying germs into the air. You can blow mucus into a tissue, then wash your hands as soon after as possible to prevent the spreading of your disease.