Science Questions

Sat, 15th Jul 2006

Part of the shows Sun Tans, Fission and Fusion and The Best Naked Science

Question

John via email asked:

Why do you sneeze when you look at the Sun?

Answer

This is a reflex called the photic sneeze reflex and no-one's exactly sure what underlies it. We know that it's genetic and is passed on in families. About one person in four or one person in five is affected. People used to think that when you looked at the Sun, the bright light made your eyes water, the water ran down into your nose, tickled your nose and made you sneeze. This is not true because it happens too fast. What scientists think is that there's some sort of crossed wiring in the back of the brain where the size of your pupil is controlled, and that's what causes that to happen.

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