Photic Sneeze Reflex: Signs, Symptoms, and Management

Photo by: Bigstockphoto
Photo by: Bigstockphoto

Photic Sneeze Reflex – also known as ACHOO or Autosomal Dominant Compelling Helio-Ophthalmic Outburst – is a condition characterized by uncontrollable sneezing after exposure to bright lights, usually sunlight. As such, those afflicted with this condition are called “sun sneezers.”

Sneezing is an important body process. It protects the nasal cavity from irritants. Usually, the fine nose hairs in the nose and bronchi hairs – called cilia – filter irritants that enter through the nostrils. But not all irritants are filtered out. A sneeze forces air out of the nostrils in one violent motion. This effectively removes the irritant. All types of animals sneeze, including human beings. But there are cases wherein sneezing occurs in an abnormally long time.

Signs and Symptoms of Photic Sneeze Reflex

The most common sign of photic sneeze reflex is sneezing several times after exposure to bright lights. A person could sneeze three to ten consecutive times followed by a refractory period.

The intensity of the sneeze increases if the person emerged from a dimly lit room and into a brightly lit room. According to research, the intensity of the sneeze will depend on the specific wavelength of light. Although photic sneeze reflex does not have dangerous symptoms, it can be annoying for those having an episode.

Causes of Photic Sneeze Reflex

This extremely peculiar condition affects 7% of the population. Unfortunately, not much is known about photic sneeze reflex. However, most experts believe it is a genetic disorder that affects both men and women.

A study conducted by the School of Optometry at the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that 67% of sun sneezers are female. The condition is also common among those of Caucasian descent, representing 94% of sun sneezers.

Scientists believe that this condition is caused by an indirect impulse transmitted into the ophthalmic division of the trigeminal nerve. This stimulates the nasal cavity into sneezing. The sneezing also triggers the maxillary division of the trigeminal nerve. How this happens still stumps scientists to this very day.

Herbal Treatments for Photic Sneeze Reflex

Black Cumin Seeds

Black cumin may help prevent sneezing. Just get a handful of black cumin seeds and wrap it with a handkerchief or washcloth. Secure the cloth with twine. Then, hold the wrapped seeds next to the nose and inhale. Do this every time you feel an episode coming.

Peppermint Oil

Peppermint oil will decongest the nose and ease violent sneezing. Just boil a pot of water then add several drops of peppermint essential oil. Get a towel, cover your head with it then bring your nose closer to the steam. Inhale the steam until sneezing clears up.

Chamomile Tea

Chamomile tea relaxes the muscles and minimizes sneezing too. Just add a tea bag of chamomile in a cup of boiling water. Let it steep for 10 minutes and drink. Chamomile contains potent anti-histamine properties. It works great as an alternative treatment for photic sneeze reflex and seasonal allergies.


Ginger is traditionally used to treat viral and nasal disorders, including violent sneezing. To use ginger to treat photic sneeze reflex, crush ginger root and squeeze the extracts out. Take the extracts twice daily until sneezing stops. You can also cut several slices of ginger and add them to a cup of boiling water. Sweeten with honey and drink the tea before going to bed.

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