Medical Definition of Achoo syndrome

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Achoo syndrome: A disorder characterized by nearly uncontrollable paroxysms of sneezing provoked in a reflex fashion by the sudden exposure of a dark-adapted subject to intensely bright light, usually to brilliant sunlight. The number of successive sneezes is usually 2 or 3, but can be up to about 40. The Achoo syndrome is also called the photic sneeze reflex or the helio-ophthalmic outburst syndrome.

The syndrome is much more common than has been generally recognized. In one study it was found in 23% of medical students. The syndrome is one of the most frequent of all known genetic traits. It is inherited in an autosomal dominant manner, affecting males and females alike, who have a 50:50 chance of passing the Achoo gene to each of their children who will have the disorder. For those affected, being in tunnels and shadows created by tall buildings and forested terrain can induce sneezing upon re-entering the bright sunlight.

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Last Editorial Review: 1/25/2017

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