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Sneezing

A sneeze is a sudden, forceful, uncontrolled burst of air through the nose and mouth.

Alternative Names

Sternutation

Causes

Sneezing is caused by irritation to the mucus membranes of the nose or throat. It can be very bothersome, but is rarely a sign of a serious problem.

Sneezing can be due to:

  • Allergy to pollen, mold, dander, dust (hay fever )
  • Breathing in corticosteroids (from certain nose sprays)
  • Common cold or the flu
  • Drug withdrawal
  • Triggers such as dust, air pollution, dry air, spicy foods, strong emotions, certain medicines, and powders

Home Care

Avoiding exposure to the allergen is the best way to control sneezing caused by allergies. An allergen is something that causes an allergic reaction.

Tips to reduce your exposure:

  • Change furnace filters
  • Remove pets from the home to get rid of animal dander
  • Travel to areas with low pollen counts
  • Use air filters to reduce pollen in the air
  • Wash linens in hot water (at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit) to kill dust mites

In some cases, you may need to move out of a home with a mold spore problem.

Sneezing that is not due to an allergy will disappear when the illness that is causing it is cured or treated.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if sneezing is affecting your life and home remedies do not work.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your health care provider will perform a physical exam and look at your nose and throat. You will be asked about your medical history and symptoms, such as:

  • During what time of year is sneezing the worst?
  • When did the sneezing begin?
  • How long do sneezing episodes last?
  • Do you have a history of allergies?
  • Have you been outdoors more than usual?
  • Do you have any new pets?
  • What have you done to try to relieve the sneezing?
  • How well has it worked?
  • What other symptoms do you have?

In some cases, allergy testing may be needed to find the cause.

Your health care provider will suggest treatments and lifestyle changes for hay fever symptoms .

References

Corren J, Baroody FM, Pawankar R. Allergic and nonallergic rhinitis. In: Adkinson NF Jr., Bochner BS, Burks AW, et al., eds. In: Middleton's Allergy Principles and Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2013:chap 42.

Rossen RD, Birdsall HH. Allergy and immunology. In: Harward MP, ed. Medical Secrets. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2012:chap 11.

Wasserman SI. Approach to the person with allergic or immunologic disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 257.

Updated: 5/16/2014

Stuart I. Henochowicz, MD, FACP, Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine, Division of Allergy, Immunology, and Rheumatology, Georgetown University Medical School, Washington, DC. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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