Do you sneeze when you emerge into bright sunlight?
Sneezing is a natural response that removes irritants from the nose. But is sunlight a nasal irritant?
Officially known as “photic sneeze reflex” or “photic sneeze syndrome”, sun sneezing is a condition that triggers a sneeze when people are exposed to bright lights. It affects an estimated 18 to 35 percent of the population. Some think it is a genetic condition, as it often occurs within families.
Apparently the reflex isn’t triggered by light itself, but by a change in light intensity.
Sun sneezing has been documented for many centuries. While the exact mechanism of the photic sneeze reflex is not understood, the most common explanation can be traced to psychiatrist Henry Everett whose 1964 theory proposed that the effect resulted from mixed up nerve signals in the brain.
Some psychiatrists and psychologists have jumped on this bandwagon, possibly because the phenomenon can’t yet be explained, so it may be a ripe area for getting government funds for brain research.
One study suggested that individuals who sun sneeze are more likely to suffer from psychological distress.
Another theory says that intractable sneezing is a manifestation of a psychiatric condition called “conversion disorder” [a condition in which the brain and body’s nerves are unable to send and receive signals properly, sometimes thought to occur because of a psychological conflict].
In the psychiatric billing bible the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), there are nine entries with some type of “Conversion disorder,” or “functional neurological symptom disorder.”
So if you sneeze when you walk outside, you can be labeled with a mental disorder and prescribed an antidepressant.
The fifth cranial nerve, called the trigeminal nerve, is thought by some to be related to sneezing. Some psychiatrists speculate that a malformation in this nerve causes it to be overstimulated in bright light. Some psychiatrists have also targeted the trigeminal nerve for harmful therapies.
For example, a prescription-only device, called the Monarch external Trigeminal Nerve Stimulation (eTNS) System from NeuroSigma, sends an electric current into the brains of children diagnosed with so-called ADHD.
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