Photic Sneeze Reflex

The photic sneeze reflex, or ‘sun sneeze’, is still not very well documented these days. My favorite explanation of it comes from ScienceAlert:


“…these Sun-related sneezes might occur thanks to ‘parasympathetic generalisation’: a process that occurs when one part of the parasympathetic nervous system – such as the pupil of the eye – is excited by a stimulus and happens to activate other parts of the system as well – such as the membranes in the nose.”


Since it hasn’t been linked to anything potentially dangerous or life-threatening, no one has bothered putting tons of money into studying it, yet. It’s really more of an annoyance, for those of us who ‘suffer’ from it. My dad and brother both get it from certain things, but it seems to vary in sensitivity, and the specific triggers. For instance, my brother used to sneeze every time he walked into sunlight, whereas I’d only sneeze for super bright sunlight. I used to tease that he must be allergic to sunlight. Both of us sneeze from strong peppermint. My brother sneezes from hoppy beer (I don’t drink beer, so I’m not sure if I get that too). I forget what my dad sneezes from, I think he only sneezes from peppermint. But me? Oh boy. Add dark chocolate and red wine to the list.

For some reason, I love to ‘explain’ these sneezes to friends and family by simply stating what the trigger was. Especially the ones who don’t have the reflex. They just can’t even imagine what it feels like to eat dark chocolate, get that tickling sensation, and have to give yourself a moment to recover (or to sneeze, depending on how much was eaten). And then you’re free of the sneeze reflex — until a few minutes have passed since the last bit of dark chocolate. At least, that’s my experience.

Here’s the list of my ‘photic sneeze reflex’ triggers:

  • bright sunlight
  • strong peppermint
  • dark chocolate
  • red wine

What’s your trigger?

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