Sneezing is your body’s way of removing irritants from your nose
or throat. A sneeze is an
involuntary and powerful expulsion of air. Sneezing often happens suddenly and
without warning. Another name for sneezing is sternutation.
While this symptom can be quite annoying, it’s not usually the
result of any serious health problem.
What Causes You to Sneeze?
Part of your nose’s job is to clean the air you breathe, making
sure it’s free of dirt and bacteria particles. In most cases, your nose traps
this dirt and bacteria in mucus. Your stomach then digests the mucus, which
neutralizes any potentially harmful invaders.
Sometimes, however, dirt and debris can enter your nose and
irritate the sensitive mucous membranes inside your nose and throat. When these
membranes become irritated, it causes you to sneeze.
Sneezing can be triggered by allergens, viruses like the common
cold or flu, nasal irritants, inhalation of corticosteroids through a nasal
spray, or drug withdrawal.
Allergies are an extremely common condition caused by your body’s
response to foreign organisms. Under normal circumstances, your body’s immune
system protects you from harmful invaders like disease-causing bacteria. If you
have allergies, your body’s immune system identifies typically harmless
organisms as threats. Allergies can cause you to sneeze when your body tries to
expel these organisms.
Infections caused by viruses such as the common cold and flu can
also make you sneeze. According the Mayo
Clinic, there are more than 100 different viruses that can cause the common
Less Common Causes
Other, less common causes of sneezing include:
- trauma to the nose
- withdrawal from certain drugs
- inhaling irritants, including dust and pepper
- breathing cold air
Nasal sprays that have a corticosteroid in them reduce
inflammation in your nasal passages and decrease the frequency of sneezing. People
with allergies often use these sprays.
How to Treat Sneezing at Home
One of the best ways to keep from sneezing is to avoid things
that trigger you to sneeze. You can also make some simple changes in your home
to reduce irritants.
Change the filters on your furnace to keep your home’s filtration
system working properly. If you have pets that shed, you might consider cutting
their hair or removing them from the home if their fur bothers you too much.
You can kill dust mites on sheets and other linens by washing them in hot
water, or water over 130 degrees F.
You might also decide to purchase an air filtration machine to clean the air in
In extreme cases, you may need to get your home checked for mold
spores, which may be causing your sneezing. If mold infests your home, you may
need to move.
Treating the Underlying Causes of Sneezing
If your sneezing is a result of allergies or an infection, you
and your doctor can work together to treat the cause and resolve your sneezing.
If an allergy is the cause of your sneezing, your first step will
be to avoid known allergens. Your doctor will teach you how to recognize these
allergens, so you’ll know to stay away from them.
Over-the-counter and prescription medications called antihistamines are also available
to relieve your symptoms. Some of the most common anti-allergy medications are loratadine
(Claritin) and cetirizine (Zyrtec).
If you have severe allergies, your doctor might recommend that
you receive allergy shots. Allergy
shots contain the extracts of purified allergens. Exposing your
body to allergens in small, regulated doses helps keep your body from reacting
to allergens in the future.
If you have an infection, such as the common cold or flu, your
treatment options are more limited. Currently, no antibiotic is effective in
treating the viruses that cause colds and the flu. You can use a nasal spray to
relieve a congested or runny nose, or you can take an antiviral medication to
speed up your recovery time if you have the flu. You should get plenty of rest
and drink lots of fluids to help your body recover faster.