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Sneezing

Definition

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

See also:

Alternative Names

Sternutation

Considerations

Sneezing is caused by irritation to the mucous membranes of the nose or throat. It can be very bothersome, but is generally not a sign of a serious problem.

Common Causes

  • Allergy to pollen, mold, dander, dust (hay fever)
  • Corticosteroid inhalation (from certain nose sprays)
  • Drug withdrawal
  • Nasal irritants such as dust and powders
  • Virus infections (common cold, upper respiratory tract infections, the flu)

Home Care

Avoiding exposure to the offending allergen is the best way to control sneezing caused by allergies.

Tips to reduce your exposure:

  • Change furnace filters
  • Remove pets from the home to eliminate animal dander
  • Travel to areas with low pollen counts
  • Use air filtration devices to reduce pollen in the air
  • Wash linens in hot water (at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit) to temporarily kill dust mites

In some cases, moving out of a home with a mold spore problem may be necessary.

Sneezing not due to an allergy will disappear when the underlying disorder is cured or treated.

Call your health care provider if

Call your provider if sneezing adversely affects your life and home remedies do not work.

What to expect at your health care provider's office

Your medical provider will perform a physical exam and examine your the upper respiratory tract. You will be asked questions about your medical history and symptoms such as:

  • During what time of year is sneezing the worst?
  • When did the sneezing begin?
  • How long do sneezing episodes last?
  • Do you have a history of allergies?
  • Have you been outdoors more than usual?
  • Do you have any new pets?
  • What have you done to try to relieve the sneezing?
  • How well has it worked?
  • What other symptoms are also present?

In some cases, allergy testing may be needed to provide an accurate diagnosis.

Antihistamines are the first line of therapy for sneezing caused by allergies. Nasal steroid sprays may be helpful in more chronic conditions.

Allergy shots, also called immunotherapy or hyposensitization, may be considered for seasonal or year-round symptoms that cannot be managed with other drugs because of their side effects.

References

Bahls C. In the clinic: allergic rhinitis. Ann Intern Med. 2007;146(7):ITC4-1-ITC4-16.

Saleh HA, Durham SR. Perennial rhinitis. BMJ. 2007;335(7618):502-507.


Review Date: 6/29/2010
Reviewed By: Paula J. Busse, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Clinical Immunology, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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