Does looking at bright light really help you sneeze?


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Every time I feel like I have to sneeze but I just can't seem to get it out, I always look up at a light because I've always heard that this helps trigger the sneeze. Sometimes, this trick works like a charm, but other times I still can't seem to get the sneeze out of me. I've always wondered is it just a coincidence that this works for some people, or is there science behind this theory? After doing some research, I found that this is actually a genetic trait known as photic sneeze reflex. Although experts still can't fully explain this reflex, most agree that it is due to crossed wires in the brain. The trigemal nerve in the brain, which controls facial sensations and motor control, is located really close to the optical nerve in the brain. When light enters the eye, some of the electrical signal that is sent to the optical nerve to make the pupils smaller is sensed by the trigemal nerve, causing the person's nose to feel irritated, and therefore causing them to sneeze. There has not been very much research done on this reflex, but scientists have found that this genetic trait is found in about 10 to 35 % of the population. A study done in the 1960s proved that gene that causes this reflex is autosomal dominant, meaning if one of your parents has it, there is a 50% chance that you have it as well. 

2 Comments

I thought this was an interesting topic to choose because it is another common reflex that seems to happen to many of us every day. When I first read the title of your post, I immediately thought back to this article. Even though it is sneezing versus yawning, they are similar with the thought of a light will automatically make you sneeze and another person yawning causes you to yawn as well. Both of these concepts seem to be so simple in context, but I have never really thought about the science behind it. I like how you described what the photic sneeze reflex was because that really explains where this thought of a light causing us to sneeze comes from. I see that you have explained that not much research has been done on this topic, and I kind of find that surprising. Sneezing happens almost every day for some of us and you would think more researchers would want to know why something so common like this occurs. I would be curious to see if more studies have been done recently. I also thought it was cool when you brought up the point about the autosomal dominant gene that can get passed from one generation to the next. It would be interesting to see if there was a study done on people who have this gene and see who actually sneeze when looking into a light versus those who do not have the gene and see if they can't sneeze when looking at a light.

This is something I always wondered about as well, so its quite interesting to hear the science behind it. However, I cant help but think about some of the things my psych professor has been touching on in class...

Like you said, only about 35% of the population has this reflex, but nearly everyone is told to use this "trick". It seems as if more than 35% of the population uses this method to help a sneeze, and people wouldnt tell each other to use it if it didnt work. I wonder if it works for people simply because they are told that it works. In psych, and in science, its known that a preconceived notion of something can alter results. Thats why double blind placebo trials are used in research. My theory is that most people who use this method, since it is only 35% who have the reflex anyway, only use it because they are convinced that it works. That is why they sneeze, not because the light is actually causing them a reaction.

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