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What Can Cause People to Sneeze?

You don't only sneeze when you're sick with a cold. Learn other reasons why a person's body might cause them to sneeze.

People sneeze for a variety of reasons, not only when they are sick with a cold. Using medical terminology, the technical term for sneezing is “sternutation.” The process of sneezing involves a sudden expulsion of air from the nasal passageway due to a strong contraction of the diaphragm muscle below the lungs. Its typical function is to forcibly remove foreign particles from the nose, sinuses, and adjoining airways. Here are some of the reasons why people sneeze:

Allergies. Exposure to an allergen (something that can trigger an allergic response) can lead to sneezing and sinus inflammation. Examples of common allergens include dust, pollen, mold spores, perfumes, mildew, and pet dander.

Illness. Respiratory infections can cause people to sneeze. In order to prevent spraying tens of thousands of germ-filled droplets into the surrounding air, politely cover your sneeze with a tissue or by sneezing into the crook of your elbow.

Irritants. Examples of irritants that can trigger sneezing include smoke, dust, chemicals, and air pollutants.

Cold air. Sneezing can be triggered by the presence of cold air.

Eyebrow plucking. While plucking your eyebrows you risk inadvertently stimulating one of the cranial nerves known as the Trigeminal nerve. This can sometimes trigger an attack of sneezing.

Bright light. For some people are particularly sensitive to bright light, gazing at a bright light can cause sneezing. This is referred to as a photic sneeze reflex.

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