What is a Sneeze, and What are the Symptoms & Causes?

What is a Sneeze, and What are the Symptoms & Causes?

Although it can sometimes be embarrassing, sneezing is a normal reflex of the human body. Sneezing can be triggered by different things, such as a cold or an allergy. Our doctors explain the causes and the main symptoms associated with sneezing.

What is a Sneeze?

A sneeze is the expulsion of air from the lungs through the nose and mouth, usually in response to irritation of the nasal lining. The body’s defense reflex eliminates irritating agents such as dust or microbes that could cause an infection. It thus acts as a protective barrier to maintain the health of the respiratory tract by eliminating unwanted substances or microbes.

What are the symptoms associated with sneezing?

Sneezing can be accompanied by various symptoms, depending on its cause. Among the symptoms frequently associated with sneezing, it is possible to find:

  • A feeling of tiredness 
  • Nasal congestion or runny nose
  • An irritated throat
  • Pain or tingling in the nose
  • A fever 
  • Tearing of the eyes

What are the causes of repetitive sneezing?

Respiratory tract irritation

Sneezing can be triggered by irritation of the airways, which causes an inflammatory response to eliminate irritating agents. This irritation can be caused by allergens, environmental irritants, such as cigarette smoke, chemicals, strong perfumes or odors, pollution, or even changes in temperature or humidity.


Repetitive sneezing can be caused by seasonal allergies to pollen (hay fever) or allergies to pets, dust, dust mites, molds or other allergens.

Cold or flu

Colds and flu can cause sneezing due to the irritation of the nasal passages caused by the viral infection.

Drug reaction

Some medications have the side effect of triggering repetitive sneezing. This can happen when taking antibiotics, certain blood pressure medications, antidepressants, or other medications that irritate the nasal mucous membranes or trigger an allergic reaction. Suppose you notice repetitive sneezing after starting a new medication. In that case, it is important to consult your GP to discuss existing alternatives if necessary.

Vasomotor rhinitis

Vasomotor rhinitis is characterized by dysfunction of the blood vessels in the nasal lining, causing dripping and frequent sneezing. Its cause is unknown.

Exposure to light

Exposure to light, especially bright light like sunlight, can trigger sneezing in some people. The optic nerve over-stimulated by light will interfere with the trigeminal nerve, causing a sneeze reflex.

Can repeated sneezing be serious?

Generally, repeated sneezing is not considered a serious phenomenon. These often have a temporary and benign cause. However, in some cases, violent repetitive sneezing can cause lesions related to pressure variations (damage to the inner ear or eardrums, dilation of an artery, pneumothorax.

What to do in case of repeated sneezing?

It is best to wait for the sneeze to pass naturally. However, suppose you need to temporarily eliminate the sneeze reflex. In that case, you can try gently pinching the tip of your nose while blowing through your mouth to block the reflex.

If sneezing is frequent, it is recommended that you consult your doctor to determine the cause and obtain appropriate treatment.

It is important to note that these suggestions are intended to provide temporary relief and do not necessarily resolve what is causing the sneezing. The advice of a healthcare professional is always recommended for a full assessment of your symptoms.

How to prevent sneezing?

If you’re dealing with repeated sneezing, here are some things you can do to get relief:

Avoid triggers: Identify what triggers your sneeze, such as allergens, environmental irritants, or chemicals, and try to avoid them as much as possible.

Keep your environment clean: Maintain good hygiene by cleaning regularly and ventilating to eliminate dust, mites and mold.

Opt for a humidifier: If the air in your environment is too dry, using a humidifier can help reduce nasal irritation and prevent sneezing.

Practice good nasal hygiene: Twice-daily rinsing of the nose using a seawater spray or saline solution and regular blowing help eliminate irritants and pathogens from the upper airways.

Take care of your immune system: Keep your immune system healthy by eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and having a good sleep routine. A strong immune system helps reduce allergic reactions and respiratory infections that can cause sneezing.

Should we refrain from sneezing?

It is recommended not to refrain from sneezing, as this can put excessive pressure on the airways and sinuses, leading to complications, such as pain and damage to blood vessels, lungs and ears.

What precautions should you take when sneezing?

When you sneeze, it is important to take certain precautions to reduce the spread of germs and minimize the risk to yourself and those around you:

  • Cover your mouth and nose using a tissue when you sneeze. If you don’t have a handkerchief handy, sneeze into the crook of your elbow rather than your hands;
  • Avoid touching your face after sneezing, as this can spread germs to surfaces you touch afterward;
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after sneezing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use a hydroalcoholic solution;
  • Avoid too close contact with other people if you are sick or show symptoms of respiratory infection to avoid contaminating those around you.

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