Have you ever asked yourself why you tend to feel a tingly sensation in your nose or sneeze whenever you look at a bright light or walk outside when it is bright and sunny? Well, you may be interested to know that if you have experienced such, you might be a sun-sneezer. The phenomenon of sun-sneezing is one that affects about 25 percent of the population and it is also officially referred to as a photo sneeze reflex. A sneeze is triggered whenever an individual is exposed to a bright light of any kind in this condition.
Sun sneezing affects roughly 18-35 percent of the overall population with a higher prevalence in females who make up about 67 percent of the overall sun-sneezing population. Caucasians represent up to 94 percent of the population with photo sneeze reflex. It is also believed to be a genetic condition considering it typically occurs in families.
Even though the genetic basis for photo sneeze reflex is still unclear, there have been suggestions that it is typically inherited down each generation as an autosomal-dominant trait. This means that you would only require a single mutated gene from one parent in order to be affected by the disorder. It also appears that the number of sneezes induced during the reflex is mediated genetically and may be predicted within each family.
Origins of the Condition
For centuries, there has been documentation about sun sneezing with Greek Philosopher Aristotle being one of the first people to document its occurrence. He formed a hypothesis that when the sun raised the temperatures inside the nose, this generated sneezing.
In the 17th century, Francis Bacon, an English philosopher, disproved Aristotle’s theory by noting that when one faced the sun while closing the eyes, it did not bring about a sneeze response. He believed that the eyes might instead actually have a significant role in the photo sneeze response.
According to recent studies, there is proof that the reflex appears to be caused by alterations in light intensity as opposed to a certain type of light. For this reason, the brightness of snow, camera flashes, and even bright lights can at times result in a sneezing sensation. The most common explanation for sun sneezing was by Dr. Henry Everett in 1964. He proposed that this sneezing effect was the result of a confusion of the nerve signals within the brain. When bright light is exposed to the eyes, the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest response) makes the pupils constrict in order to protect light damage to the eyes. This effect can activate other areas of the rest and digest response indirectly including the parts controlling mucus secretion and the nose’s sneeze response.
Even though sun sneezing is dangerous, it can be problematic to pilots and drivers when transitioning between areas with lighting variations during weather changes. Any drivers or pilots with the photo sneeze reflex must shield the face or eyes with sunglasses, scarves or hats and keep from looking directly at any light wherever possible.