Sneezing and Allergies: What Can Trigger a Sneezing Attack?

Fact checked by Megan Soliman MD, MSc
Board-certified physician at Saba University School of Medicine

Sneezing, also known as the nasoocular reflex, is often caused by allergies. However, this is not always the case!

Your body expels irritants from your nasal passages and throat by causing you to sneeze. Sneezing is characterized by the forceful and involuntary release of air. Sneezing uncontrollably frequently occurs unexpectedly and without any prior warning.

Although this symptom can be quite annoying at times, it does not typically indicate a serious issue. Let’s take a look at what can cause a sneezing attack and how to stop it.

Is sneezing a lot a sign of allergies?

Yes, a sneezing attack can be a sign of an allergic reaction. Allergies are common disorders that are brought on by the immune system’s reaction to organisms that are not naturally present in the body.

Under typical conditions, your immune system will defend you against potentially dangerous outside agents, such as microorganisms that cause illness.

In those with allergies, their immune system mistakenly sees normally innocuous substances as dangerous invaders. If your body is trying to get rid of the organisms that are causing your allergy, it may cause you to sneeze.

What can trigger a sneezing attack?

Allergic rhinitis

You could find yourself reaching for a box of tissues if you experience hay fever or an allergy to pollen, mildew, dander, or dust. Histamine is released by cells that are found in the mucous membranes of your nose when you have allergic rhinitis.

A woman holding dandelions that can trigger a sneezing attack

Histamine triggers sneezing by acting on a variety of nerves contained inside the mucosal membranes of the nasal passages. Additionally, it triggers other common allergy-related issues, such as watery eyes and a runny nose.

Sneezing from allergies can be alleviated in a number of ways, including through the use of various treatments that target the underlying cause of sneezing or inhibit the mechanism that causes sneezing.

Antihistamines, in both their oral and nasal forms, are typically effective for allergic rhinitis, which is the condition that causes sneezing. They counteract the effects of histamine, which is responsible for the runny nose and sneezing. But the most effective way to prevent sneezing is to avoid the things that cause it in the first place.

Infections

Sneezing may also be brought on by illnesses that affect the respiratory system, such as the common cold. Colds promote the production of mucus, which in turn activates the different nerves that are located inside the mucous membranes of the nose.

Since histamine is not the cause of sneezing uncontrollably in the event of a cold, the majority of antihistamines will not be effective.

On the other hand, medications like diphenhydramine may dry nasal secretions, which can then decrease sneezing. So sneezing may be made more bearable by using anticholinergic nasal sprays.

Irritants and other possible triggers of sneezing

Sneezing allergies may also be brought on by strong aromas, fragrances, meals, and the smoke from cigarettes, which are all chemical irritants.

These triggers are responsible for nonallergic rhinitis, which is distinguished from allergic rhinitis by the absence of allergic antibodies underlying the symptoms.

Sneezing may also be brought on by environmental irritants, such as strong sunlight. The nasoocular reflex includes a link between the eyes and the nose, which causes stimulation of nerves inside the nasal mucous membranes.

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Since the production of histamine is not the cause of sneezing in response to chemical or physical irritants, antihistamine medication is not likely to be effective in treating sneezing in these circumstances.

Sneezing brought on by chemical and physical irritants may be treated with a variety of nasal sprays, including nasal steroids, certain nasal antihistamines, and anticholinergic nasal sprays.

Sneezing in the morning: What can be the reason?

When you have morning allergies, sneezing in the morning is a frequent symptom. This is true whether you experience hay fever or an allergy to dust mites. There are a number of possible explanations for this, including the following:

  • Mornings often have greater pollen levels than the rest of the day.
  • Dust mites may inhabit your bed and the area surrounding it.
  • Dust is produced by your pets and may have accumulated in your bedroom.

If your symptoms are more prominent in the morning, it is possible that they are caused by dust mites, which tend to create their homes in bedding because of the warmth and moisture it provides.

However, pollen and dander from pets are also potential triggers for these allergic reactions.

How to stop sneezing uncontrollably

Sneezing is an example of a semiautonomous reflex, much like blinking or breathing. This indicates that you are able to exercise some degree of conscious control over it. It’s possible to put off your sneeze long enough to get a tissue, but it’s going to be difficult to stop it completely.

A young woman having a sneezing attack at the park

Sneezing uncontrollably can be avoided in part by avoiding the causes of the condition. There are also easy things you can do at home to lessen exposure to allergens. For example, maintain your home’s filtration system by regularly replacing your furnace’s filters.

If your pet’s fur or hair is a major annoyance, you may want to get rid of it or have it professionally groomed. Washing your bedding and other linens in water at or above 130 F (54.4 C) will eliminate dust mites.

Some other tips to help you control uncontrollable sneezing include the following:

Get familiar with your triggers

If you are sneezing a lot, find out what’s triggering your sneezing so you can effectively treat it. These are some of the most common triggers:

  • Dust
  • Pollen
  • Mold
  • Pet dander
  • Bright lights
  • Fragrant aromas
  • Meals with a strong flavor
  • Viruses that cause the common cold

Your doctor might order an allergy test if you believe that your sneezing is brought on by an allergic reaction but are having problems pinpointing the specific allergens that bring on your symptoms.

Get your allergies under control

People with allergies often have clusters of two to three successive bouts of sneezing. Note the times and places where you have the most frequent sneezing attacks.

Seasonal allergies affect a significant number of people. It’s possible that allergens like mold or dander from pets are to blame for allergies triggered by a specific location, like your home or workplace.

Download WeatherWell to keep an eye on air quality and pollen count and know when to take precautions.

It’s possible that the only thing you need is over-the-counter anti-allergy medication or an intranasal spray to keep your symptoms at bay. Antihistamines available over the counter include:

  • Cetirizine
  • Fexofenadine
  • Loratadine

Both fluticasone propionate and triamcinolone acetonide are examples of glucocorticosteroid intranasal sprays that may be purchased without a prescription.

Take precautions to avoid being exposed to environmental risks

Airborne irritants are more likely to be encountered by people working in certain jobs than by others. There is a lot of inhalable dust at some construction sites, which may be quite irritating to the nasal passages and sinuses.

These irritants have the potential to cause malignancies in the lungs, throat, and nose over time, in addition to a variety of other chronic respiratory disorders.

When operating in an area where there is the potential for inhalable dust, it is imperative to wear protective gear at all times.

You may avoid breathing in dangerous dust particles in a number of different ways, including minimizing the quantity of dust you are exposed to by preventing it from forming in the first place and using a ventilation system that can clear the air of dust.

Do not stare directly at light

There is a disorder that affects around one-third of the population that makes them sneeze whenever they look at bright lights.

Some people find that just going outdoors on a bright day is enough to make them sneeze. This disorder, which is often referred to as photic sneezing, tends to run in families. Put on some polarized sunglasses before you go outside to protect your eyes from the sun’s harmful rays.

Refrain from overeating

After eating a huge meal, some individuals experience sneezing. The medical community has a limited understanding of this disease or illness. It was given the moniker “snatiation” by a researcher, which is a portmanteau of the terms “sneeze” and “satiation” (feeling full).

Chewing more slowly and eating fewer, more frequent meals may help prevent snatiation!

Wrapping up

One of the numerous natural defensive systems that your body has is the ability to sneeze. It helps prevent irritants from entering further into your respiratory system. However, some people’s sensitivity to irritants is far higher than that of others.

Do not be concerned if you are sneezing a lot. It is not a sign of anything really wrong most of the time, but it may be quite bothersome.

You may not need to depend on medicine nearly as much as you may think. Modifying some aspects of your lifestyle may help you avoid sneezing uncontrollably. In addition, there is a lot of advice available from medical professionals about attempting to halt a sneezing attack.

January 11, 2023