Ever since I was a little kid I’ve been aware that looking at a bright light makes me sneeze. I never thought much about it, don’t — for instance — even recall talking about it with anyone else. But I recently read an article in New Scientist which has at least given me the name for my condition.
I’m a photic sneezer.
This ill-studied syndrome apparently affects only a minor fraction of the human race. It’s so ill-studied, in fact, that even those scientists who are now beginning to turn their attention to it can’t say whether that proportion is 10 percent, 40 percent or something between. Henry Everett, a psychiatry consultant for Johns Hopkins University Hospital, puts it for groups he has studied at 18 to 24 percent, but the sample sizes are too small to be reliable. It does seem from his work, though, that there is a genetic component to the condition, since it seemed more common in family members.
Photic sneezing may be related to one in which patients sneeze when they have an orgasm, or sometimes are merely having erotic thoughts. Both may have to do with minor malfunctions of the trigeminal nerve, the one which reports sensation from the face. According to New Scientist, “Somewhere along the nerve the impulses from different nerve endings around the eye and the nose may become scrambled.”
In any case the condition doesn’t seem to be dangerous, though for a time the U.S. Air Force worried about whether it might blunt the reflexes of fighter pilots. For the rest of us, sneeze in good health!