Bright lights make kids sneeze. Really?

Kerrie sent in this fascinating hack:

I have 9 month old twins who seem to have spent more of their lives congested than not. They hate the snot-sucker (even the cool battery operated one!) and I'm always struggling to get their noses clear. The other day as we were headed out the door, they both sneezed as soon as we got into the bright sunlight and voila! Lots of boogers, etc to wipe up, and clear noses. They have a photic sneeze response and will sneeze when they see bright lights. So now whenever they need their nose cleared, we either head outside or have them look (very briefly!) at a bright light. Works like a charm!

I'm totally intrigued. Has anyone else experienced this?

Related: NoseFrida nasal aspirator: revolutionizing the snot sucker

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  1. Alli says

    Our son has this too. It helps to keep his congestion down, but he really can throw the snot around. We make sure to always have tissues with us.

  2. Spookygirl says

    As long as I can remember my dad always sneezed as soon as he stepped outside every morning. We joked he was allergic to sunlight ;)

    I later found out, via Google of course, it was called “Photic sneeze reflex”

  3. Liz says

    I had a voice teacher who told me that, if you feel that tickle in your nose like you’re about to sneeze, but it’s not quite happening, you should look at a bright light. The idea being that the bright light would either cause the sneeze to happen or make it go away, but no more middle ground. Maybe it has something to do with squinting at the light? No idea, but now I always do it!

  4. Melissa says

    My dad, my daughter, and I all sneeze violently when we walk outside into the bright sun. Often just coming out of a grocery store or similar on a very bright day will cause five minutes of sneezing. Fun.q

  5. Ron says

    Every time I have to sneeze and it won’t quite come out, I look into a bright light, and bang. Everyone in my family does this…

  6. Duane says

    I love, via the Wikipedia page, that another name for this syndrome is “achooism”. :) Genetic conditions should be onomatopoetic more often.

  7. Todd in Chicago says

    Pretty much my whole life, I’ve sneezed twice when I walk into bright sunlight. I can be outside in the shade of the Chicago skyscrapers, but as soon as I hit a sunny place… bam! bam!

  8. Michael Campbell says

    Not at all uncommon, as others noted. I have it to a small degree. I thought everyone did, growing up!

  9. paul says

    My wife and both her daughters sneeze three times whenever walking into the sunlight, or being exposed to a very bright light.

  10. Kat says

    My husband does this, and I do not. Our son does this, but sneezes three times in a row like I do. Poor kid got the worst of both our sneeze reflexes! Glad to know there is an explanation for why I am not a sun sneezer. My husband claimed I was weird. Now I can tell him it’s genetics! Ha hah!

  11. Jason says

    Thank you! Forever I thought this was just something weird with me. My wife and son think it’s so strange that as soon as I walk outside I sneeze – sometimes up to 4 or 5 times.

  12. harmzie says

    My husband always claimed this happened to him and I always thought he was just a nut-job (about that!) Then we had kids & a few times they sneezed in the sun (can’t recall which ones do or don’t) he said “see? they do it too!” I thought it was coincidence, but it was adding up. I never took it serious enough to look it up. Now it has a name!

    My secret for stopping a sneeze at an inopportune time (when I was a kid, I heard the Queen does this, but I never heard it again): pinch your nose just at the point where the bone ends & cartilage (sp?) begins. Unless it’s a doosie, it will work. If you do it now (i.e. no sneeze in sight) you’ll feel it’s nervy & sensitive.

  13. Jill in Atlanta says

    I always thought that was normal. Good way to get the sneeze over with when it just won’t come and won’t go away.

  14. La Rêveuse says

    Happens to me all the time. I have to go into a dark room to stop it. Have even had to teach with only one bar of lights on in the room. Kids thought I was nuts.

    An optometrist told me my sneezy nerve was crossed with my optic nerve, and when it was overstimulated, voilà. Achoo.

    I find it irritating, but it’s good to know I’m not the only one.

  15. shirky says

    my mom has this. I thought it had another name. I bite my lip to keep from sneezing (on conference call for example). it’s the pain that does it.

  16. Jodi says

    It is s medically recognized condition and it doesn’t happen to everyone. “Achoo Syndrome”

    My son definitely has it.

  17. Barb says

    This happened to me and my sister when we were kids, but rarely happens to me any more. And it’s funny that I find this posted this morning, ‘cuz as I walked down the stairs behind my 9 year old (who had just woken up) into the bright living room, he sneezed, and I was reminded that it used to happen to me. :D

    It didn’t happen to my youngest son, however, and he’s the one for whom this hack would be wonderful to use. ;)

  18. mel says

    My great-uncle told me about this, and I think it still happens to him. Happens to my son almost everytime we go outside.

  19. none says

    my husband and daughter both have this…also to get my congested daughter a bit cleared up I use a cotton swab and gingerly clear out the visible gunk in her nose. This will usually cause her to sneeze also, helping out the process even more. I have to warn though, most kids will HATE this, but over time may get used to it. She thinks it’s cool to see what I have dug out of her nose! ;)

  20. Carrie says

    Another sun sneezer here, but mostly in the winter when the sun is coupled with glare from the snow. My hubby has a similar sneeze response when he chews peppermint gum. Now THAT’S weird. I come from a family of sneezers, 4 generations and counting that sneeze in multiples. (Great uncle, uncle, brother and my daughter)

  21. Erin says

    Oh yeah, I’ve always sneezed when going outside on a sunny day. And if I feel a sneeze coming on and can’t quite get it to go, I look into a bright light and I’ll sneeze within a couple of seconds. I’ve never thought much of it, I assumed it happened to everyone!

  22. cathy says

    It’s a genetic thing – really! My kids and my husband are all “sun sneezers,” but no one on my side of the family is. So, it won’t work for all kids – but great tip for the ones it does work on!

  23. Candace Prosser says

    It works for me, my father and my siblings. If I need to sneeze I just focus on the light for a few seconds and I cannot help but sneeze.

  24. Jan says

    Absolutely, I have this too and use it all the time if a sneeze doesn’t want to get out ;) Works best with small bright light sources (spots etc.)

  25. Julie says

    A friend of mine sent me a link to this post… I posted about this a while ago… wondering if it was just for boys. My husband and my two sons sneeze in the light…but I don’t. I find it fascinating and the responses I got on my blog were fascinating as well. Apparently it is more common than not.

  26. Rossana says

    It happens to me every morning when I first turn on a light. It’s really annoying. Sometimes I can sneeze for up to a minute.

  27. Beth B. says

    … happens to me too. Not my son though…. so I guess that’s good (?)…. doesn’t really bother me though; sometimes a good sneeze is all you need.

    Beth B. (mommy to a busy 5 yr old)

  28. snarflemarfle says

    I didn’t realize this was a genetic thing! I’ve done this ever since I can remember. And I thought I read something that it had to do with a reflex to make you close your eyes in the sunlight! Interesting to know it’s actually a genetic deal.

  29. Anita B says

    I have been doing this since I can remember, so I should try it on my son. I can’t remember if he does this or not, so I’ll make sure I pay attention next time we go out and it’s sunny! Love the wikipedia page!

  30. Laree says

    I remember learning about this in my Human Anatomy class back in colege (where I obviously forgot how to spell!) – I thought it was so weird! (the theory according to my professor was that the nerves for sneezing and the nerves for your eye sight lie along a common pathway, and the light can trigger one or the other). My hubby TOTALLY has this. He always says “yup, us vampires are just alergic to the sun” I don’t, my daughter doesn’t, but my son sure does too.

  31. Megan says

    I’ve done this my whole life! I also always sneeze when I walk out into sunlight – my daughter does it, too. I had NO IDEA there was a name for it!

  32. Elena says

    Yep, my son does it too, although only in sunlight. He did it more as a baby. I never thought of doing it on purpose though. That’s a good idea.

    My husband and I don’t sneeze strangely but my sister-in-law, once she starts sneezing, she’ll go rapid-fire for about 8 or 9 sneezes. It’s funny and sad at the same time.

  33. k says

    Is my family the only ones who don’t do it? I always thought it was some urban legend or something. I remember years ago having a sneeze that didn’t quite materialize, and somebody told me to look up at a bright light to help me get my sneeze on, and it SO DIDN’T work. I just shrugged it off, wrote off that person as some weirdo with old wives’ tales, and sat there in my un-sneezed misery.

  34. Altissima says

    Another sun-sneezer here. I have an additional tip – if you want to STOP a sneeze, or relive congestion in the nose and sinuses, some simple acupressure techniques can be very effective.
    1./ On each side of your nose, there is a small indentation in the bone near your nostrils. Apply pressure with the fingertip to the corner of the nostril. This can help relieve nose and sinus congestion, and also can stave off a sneeze if you are trying to keep quiet, or need to wait until you can find a kleenex.
    2./ At the inner corner of the eye there is a notch at the base of your upper eye where it comes into the ridge of the nose. Gentle pressure here can also relieve sinus congestion.

    There is a diagram here that illustrates the points:

  35. Debbie says

    Interesting… This doesn’t happen to me (haven’t noticed if it happens to my husband) but it happens to my 1-yr old son. I always thought it was related to an allergy and something outside was making him sneeze. Never realized the bright light was causing it. Thanks for the info!

  36. Shauna says

    Sometimes I look toward (not directly at) a bright light or the sun to make myself sneeze. It’s definitely not an old wives’ tale.

  37. kris says

    Yep, my son, husband, and mother-in-law all have what we call sun sneezes. It’s pretty funny when they’re all together and we walk out the door. Love this hack and will definitely take advantage of his genes during the next stuffy nose!

  38. Average Joe American says

    Are you kidding? Bright light has always made me sneeze! In fact, if I feel a sneeze coming on that gets away from me, just glancing sideways at the sun, or at a bright florescent bulb, brings the sneeze on.

  39. Valerie says

    I’ve noticed, but not definitely proven, that I get a sun sneeze only after I’ve just finished some high-carb sugary food.

  40. says

    Weird. I always thought that bright lights helped you to avoid sneezing… ie: when I feel one coming on at work I always look directly into the fluorescents.

  41. Trish says

    Nice to know I’m not crazy like every one always seemed to imply when I mentioned looking toward (not at) the sun and sneezing.

  42. Kelly says

    Like others who’ve posted, I also heard years ago that when you had to sneeze, look into the sun or other bright light to sneeze.

  43. Mindy says

    I sneeze VERY easily, and it happens 1 of 3 ways: bright lights, eating something strong peppermint flavored (i.e. Altoid), or plucking my eyebrows. My friend from high school emailed me about her college class because she learned the following (which reminded her of me):

    -about 17-25% of people have a “photic sneeze reflex”, i.e. exposure to bright light, like sun, can stimulate a sneeze!
    -anywho…this has another, more fancy name: ACHOO= Autosomal-dominant Compelling Helio-Opthalmic Outburst
    -they don’t know what exactly causes it i guess, something with the nerves of the pupil and the nerves of the sneeze reflex being mixed…

  44. Damselfly says

    My son and I are both light-sneezers. Happens almost every time we go outside during the daytime. :) What a genius way to get out the junk, though! Hadn’t thought of this one.

  45. Darryl Papa-sensei says

    I get this too, and it seems to be due to the optic nerve exciting the (parallel) nasal nerves. Cover your eyes tightly against the sunshine/bright light, and the urge should decrease.

    One trick I found to NOT sneeze when in a meeting, etc. was to grab my upper lip with my thumb and forefinger and SQUEEEEEEZE. That pain distracts me enough that the urge to sneeze will usually vanish. Repeat as necessary.

    I’ve also done this to avoid that first “I’m getting a cold” sneeze. You know, the one sneeze that fills up your sinuses so bad that you KNOW you’ve got a cold.

  46. Rosie says

    I’m late on this one, but am catching up on old posts. This is a genetic condition called the photic sneeze reflex. My fiance and daughter both do it. I had never heard of before so I had to look it up. Weird stuff.

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