iQ: “ACHOO!” by Dr. Koch

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Why do some people sneeze when they see the sun? Don’t laugh; this is an actual phenomenon, one that some people deal with on a daily basis.  At least it can be daily here in New Mexico, as the “photic sneeze reflex” seems to only occur in response to sudden exposure to bright light.  Cloudy days won’t incite the kerchoo!  Several studies have been done exploring this topic, and it appears to be a genetically inherited, autosomal dominant trait (meaning if one of your parents gives you this gene, it will manifest in you), but it’s not clear exactly what the mechanism is, nor if it serves any function. About 1 in 4 people have the trait. Actually, ACHOO is another name for photic sneeze reflex, an acronym for autosomal dominant compelling helio-ophthalmic outburst syndrome.  Just reading that makes me want to sneeze. One plausible explanation for why it occurs is that there may be essentially a crossing of nerves in the brain between our nasal and visual reflex areas such that walking into bright light leads to a sudden sneeze or several. Another theory is that people with the ACHOO reflex are simply very sensitive to bright light. In general, sneezing is a way for our body to expel, or repel, irritating things. Reflexes are, by their nature of being at the speed of nerve conduction to and from the spinal cord, quick reactions to an outside stimulus, like pulling our hand away from a hot pot on the stove, or swatting at those pesky flies that love to surprise and shock us by going for a nostril or an eye, before we can really think about what’s going on.

I once offered a homeopathic suggestion to a friend who suffered from this peculiar sun induced affliction after he complained about it. But when it came down to it, he preferred to keep his quirky habit rather than seek treatment for it. I’ll admit there is something satisfying about a good sneeze, sort of like the cleansing effect of a good cry.

Glonoinum is a homeopathic remedy that is often effectively used for headaches from the sun, and it may also be useful for the ACHOO syndrome.  Glonoinum is essentially a miniscule dose of nitroglycerin, more commonly known and used in much larger doses to open the arteries of the heart and relieve chest pain during angina attacks. Who knows if the homeopathic remedy would have worked for my friend, as it was not a carefully determined prescription for my friend with all of his other peculiarities.

Simply wearing sunglasses as you make the transition from a dark to bright place may help minimize the reaction. There is no evidence that having this abnormal gene shortens life expectancy. Which is good because there aren’t any standard medical treatments for the ACHOO syndrome, short of trying brain surgery…if anyone would like to experiment and can find a neurosurgeon with some spare time on her hands, be sure to let me know how it turns out.*

Karla Koch, ND, DOM, RN  Nov. 17, 2009

* While some homeopathic remedies may bring relief to a wide range of people for a particular condition, homeopathic remedies can be very specific not only to the individual but to that person’s condition at a particular point in time. Homeopathic remedies are inexpensive, safe, and tremendously effective but to get the best from homeopathic treatment, you should consult a naturopath or homeopath to find the right one for you.
Creative Commons License“ACHOO!” by Karla Koch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommer by Karla Koch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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