Why do people sneeze multiple times in a row?

08 October 2019

SNEEZE

Woman holding a tissue to her nose.

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Question

Why do people usually sneeze multiple times in a row, not just once?

Answer

Sam Virtue has the answer to this bit of fascinating physiology...

Sam - OK. So there are a few theories about it, but to sort of think about we need to think what are we doing when we're sneezing. And so what happens when we're sneezing and why we sneeze is because there is something that is got into our nose that's irritating our nose, it's irritating something called the nasal mucosa, and this triggers the release of a chemical called histamine, and that signals to nerves and that initiates the sneeze reflex. And what we're trying to do is expel this thing that shouldn't be in our airways, out of our airways. And so if it's something that's actually irritating us like an allergen or something, we may have to sneeze repeatedly to actually get it out of the nose and stop irritating us. And the interesting thing, is that some people who may sneeze two or three times in a row, other people may actually end up in these huge sneezing fits of 10, 15 sneezes in a row.

And it may be, and this seems a bit of a cruel way of phrasing it. They may be weak sneezers, but this doesn't actually mean that they're physically weak, but actually not everything's properly lined up so they don’t actually manage to expel the allergens as well as a strong sneezer. It's also notable because this is more an allergen based thing, when we have something like a cold which I have at the moment, we tend to sneeze less frequently and we don't generally tend to have the bursts as frequently with a cold, which actually is pretty good for the viruses because it means you can sneeze once in this room. And as I currently have a cold I can then walk outside and sneeze over a load of other people and infect them as well.

Adam - So keep your sneezes to a minimum or at least to one place.

Sam - Yep.

Phil - Can how strong you are of a sneezer change as you get older?

Sam - I don't know. I mean it's an interesting question but there does seem to be some sort of anecdotal evidence that older people do seem to have more sneezing fits I don’t know if this is just a media thing or if this is really true. But it'll be quite interesting to know.

Phil - It's interesting, I feel a bit bad for saying this on the radio, but my Dad, as he's got older has increased the number of sneezes he does in a row. And it used to be two and then it went to three now it's like 4. So I feel like it's just gonna keep going up in number

Olivia - It’s exponentially going up.

Phil - Yeah soon it’ll be like 100 sneezes.

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