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Sneezing

Definition

A sneeze is a sudden, forceful, uncontrolled burst of air through the nose and mouth.

Alternative Names

Sternutation; Allergy - sneezing; Hay fever - sneezing; Flu - sneezing; Cold - sneezing; Dust - sneezing

Causes

Sneezing is caused by irritation to the mucous membranes of the nose or throat. It can be very bothersome, but is rarely a sign of a serious problem.

Sneezing can be due to:

  • Allergy to pollen, mold, dander, dust (hay fever)
  • Breathing in corticosteroids (from certain nose sprays)
  • Common cold or the flu
  • Drug withdrawal
  • Triggers such as dust, air pollution, dry air, spicy foods, strong emotions, certain medicines, and powders

Home Care

Avoiding exposure to the allergen is the best way to control sneezing caused by allergies. An allergen is something that causes an allergic reaction.

Tips to reduce your exposure:

  • Change furnace filters
  • Remove pets from the home to get rid of animal dander
  • Use air filters to reduce pollen in the air
  • Wash linens in hot water (at least 130°F or 54°C) to kill dust mites

In some cases, you may need to move out of a home with a mold spore problem.

Sneezing that is not due to an allergy will disappear when the illness that is causing it is cured or treated.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if sneezing is affecting your life and home remedies do not work.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your provider will perform a physical exam and look at your nose and throat. You'll be asked about your medical history and symptoms. Questions may include when the sneezing started, whether you have other symptoms, or if you have allergies.

In some cases, allergy testing may be needed to find the cause.

Your provider will suggest treatments and lifestyle changes for hay fever symptoms.

References

Eccles R. The nose and control of nasal airflow. In: Adkinson NF Jr., Bochner BS, Burks AW, et al, eds. Middleton's Allergy Principles and Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 40.

Rutter P. Respiratory system. In: Rutter P, ed. Community Pharmacy: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2013:chap 1.

Seller RH, Symons AB. Colds, flu, and stuffy nose. In: Seller RH, Symons AB, eds. Differential Diagnosis of Common Complaints. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 7.

Review Date:5/21/2016
Reviewed By:Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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