Sunlight and sneezing: Is there a connection?

Since birth, my son has been sensitive to bright sunlight. He reacts by sneezing. He is currently 18-months-old and still continues to sneeze when he looks into bright sunlight. My doctor has never heard of this. Should I be concerned?


Robert Steele

Robert W. Steele, MD, is a board certified pediatrician at St. John's Regional Health Center in Springfield, MO. He graduated from medical... Read more

Most people know of at least one person who sneezes when they are suddenly exposed to bright light. This is most often seen when a person walks into the sunlight after having been inside for a while. The person looks into the sunlight (or just has the light shine upon the face) and it triggers one or more sneezes. Well, there is, in fact, a connection between bright light and sneezing. It has a name but you’re not going to believe it: Autosomal Dominant Compelling Helio-Ophthalmic Outburst or ACHOO Syndrome. Now, you have to know the scientists who gave it such a label must have worked hard to come up with one that was so cute.

This sneeze reflex is inherited and thought to be prevalent in approximately 24 percent of the population. The cause of it is still unknown but there are a few theories. The speculations as to the cause are somewhat technical but they all involve direct stimulation by light to nerves found in the face. This reflex does not involve mechanisms similar to allergies, and there are no known problems associated with this syndrome.

With one-quarter of the population susceptible to this type of sneezing reflex, it is hard to consider it abnormal in anyone. It is simply an interesting phenomenon that occurs in many people -- including my son.

I hope this helps.

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