Photic Sneeze Reflex: Why Does It Happen & How to Treat Sun Sneezing?

What is Photic Sneeze Reflex?

Photic Sneeze Reflex refers to a medical condition in which an individual has sudden episodes of sneezing when exposed to bright lights, most commonly sunlight. Photic Sneeze Reflex is also known by the term sun sneezing. Photic Sneeze Reflex or Sun Sneezing is nothing but an annoyance to the affected individual rather than a true medical condition. It is estimated that around 30% of people in the world suffer from Photic Sneeze Reflex. An episode of this condition consists of approximately 5-10 continuous sneezes when the affected individual moves suddenly from a dark environment such as a movie theater to sunlight. Photic Sneeze Reflex or Sun Sneezing is nowhere connected to the wavelength but occurs due to the intensity of sunlight. More intense the sunlight is severe will the episode of sneezing. Even though the root cause of Photic Sneeze Reflex is unknown, there are many theories presented by researchers as to the potential cause of this condition. Irrespective of the cause, no definite treatment is available for Photic Sneeze Reflex. However, there are herbs that can be used by people affected by this condition to prevent episodes of sneezing when they move out from dark interiors to bright sunlight.

What is Photic Sneeze Reflex?

Causes: Why Does Photic Sneeze Reflex Happen?

There is not much intense research work done for this condition as it is a benign ailment and not much attention has been paid to it by researchers. This is precisely why there has been no definite cause found for Photic Sneeze Reflex.

Genetic Cause of Photic Sneezing: However, based on the theories circulated by researchers on this topic, genetic has some role to play in individuals with Photic Sneezing Reflex. The condition equally affects males and females. Caucasian people tend to get affected more by Photic Sneeze Reflex than the normal population.

Nerve Problems Leading to Sun Sneezing: One theory also suggests that Photic Sneezing Reflex is presumed to be triggered by a defect in the trigeminal nerve. It is the largest cranial nerve among the XII cranial nerves. It receives and sends sensory signals to the brain. It has three branches which are further divided into smaller branches and go to the jaw, eyes, mouth, and nose. In cases of Photic Sneezing Reflex, the trigeminal nerve starts to transmit defective reflex signals. As a natural occurrence, if a person moves into sunlight from a dark area then the pupils contract; however, in Photic Sneezing Reflex, this signal is wrongly sent to the nasal mucus membrane and stimulating it resulting in continuous sneezing.

Hereditary Cause of Photic Sneeze Reflex: Some researchers are of the opinion that Photic Sneeze Reflex is a genetic disorder. Photic Sneezing Reflex is believed to be an autosomal dominant trait meaning one copy of the defective gene from any parent is good enough to cause the condition in the offspring. It has been given the name of Autosomal Dominant Helioophthalmic Outburst Syndrome (ACHOO Syndrome).

What are the Symptoms of Photic Reflex Sneezing?

The primary presenting feature of Photic Reflex Sneezing or Sun Sneezing is sudden continuous episodes of sneezing on exposure to bright lights, commonly sunlight. A bout of sneeze consists of approximately 5-10 sneezes post exposure to sunlight. After a bout of sneezing, it normally takes an individual at least 24 hours to return back to normal. Photic Reflex Sneezing or Sun Sneezing is primarily linked to how intense the light is. An individual vulnerable to Photic Sneezing Reflex can start sneezing the minute they are exposed to sunlight after staying in a comparatively dark room. Even though the symptoms of Photic Reflex Sneeze are benign and cause no harm, they can however be troublesome at times. For instance, while being focused on some work or driving during daytime, episodes of sneezing can affect the focus of the individual leading to mistakes.

How is Photic Reflex Sneezing or Sun Sneezing Treated?

As the condition has not been researched much, there is no definite treatment protocol for Photic Sneezing Reflex. However, there are numerous herbal remedies which are quite effective in controlling the symptoms of Photic Sneezing Reflex. Some of these home remedies for treating Photic Sneeze Reflex or Sun Sneezing are:

Peppermint oil has chemicals which decongest the nasal passages and decrease the intensity of the sneezing episode seen in Photic Sneezing Reflex. Add some peppermint oil in boiled water. Cover the face with a towel and inhale the steam that comes out from the solution for instant improvement in the intensity of Photic Sneezing Reflex. Chamomile tea is also an effective herbal remedy to treat Photic Sneezing Reflex. It is a natural antihistamine and reduces the frequency and intensity of sneezing during an episode of Photic Sneezing Reflex. Add some chamomile tea by using a teabag in boiling water and drink it. Having a cup of chamomile tea before venturing out in the sun can prevent an episode of Photic Sneezing Reflex.

Inhaling the smell of black cumin seed is also quite an effective herbal remedy to reduce the frequency and intensity of Photic Sneezing Reflex.

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:June 2, 2022

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