Sometimes you might have experienced that you step out of a dim subway station into the sunshine and feel tickle in your nose, the unmistakable need to sneeze?
Sneezing in the sudden presence of bright light, especially sunlight, is a phenomenon known as sun sneezing or the photic sneeze reflex.
Actually, it also happens with artificial light, not just sunlight. The colour of the light doesn’t matter; it’s just the change in brightness from dark to light. The photic sneeze is genetically dominant like if one parent has it, then any of their children have a 50 per cent chance of also having it.
That great Greek thinker, Aristotle knew of this phenomenon about 350 years BC.
Some medicos with a sense of humour call it the ‘ACHOO syndrome’. ‘ACHOO’ is the sound you make when you sneeze, and so with a bit of imagination, the medicos came up with the ‘A’ in ‘ACHOO’ standing for ‘autosomal dominant’.
The letter ‘C’ stands for ‘compelling’, which is not quite accurate. Next in the word ‘ACHOO’ is the letter ‘H’. This stands for Sun, from the Greek word for sun: ‘helios’.
Finally, we have the two ‘O’s at the end of ‘ACHOO’. The first ‘O’ stands for ‘ophthalmic’, coming from the Greek word ‘ophthalmos’ meaning ‘eye’, while the second ‘O’ stands for ‘outburst’, which could be very loosely thought of as a ‘sneeze’.
One theory says that the nerves that set off a sneeze travel close to the nerves that carry visual information, and that there’s some kind of leaking of information or cross-talk and so light sets off a sneeze.
Another theory says that it’s related to one of your major nervous systems that is the parasympathetic nervous system.
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