Sneezing (sternutation) is the act of expelling a sudden and uncontrollable burst of air through the nose and mouth. Sneezing can occur for a variety of reasons that have in common an irritation of the lining (mucous membranes) of the nose or throat. It is rarely a sign of a serious illness. Many environmental triggers can lead to sneezing, including air pollutants, pollen, dry air, and dust. Spicy foods can sometimes cause sneezing. Allergies, colds, and the flu are common causes of sneezing. Drug withdrawal, emotions, and certain medications are less common causes of sneezing. Some people may sneeze as a reaction to exposure to bright light (known as a photic sneeze reflex). Depending upon the reason for the sneezing, other symptoms can also occur, including
- burning, itchy, or watery eyes,
- nasal congestion or runny nose,
- sore throat,
- fever, and
Other causes of sneezing
- Air Pollutants
- Cold Air
- Drug Withdrawal
- Exposure to Bright Light
- Spicy Foods
- Strong Emotions
- Viral Infection
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Causes of Sneezing
Adenovirus infections are common and often have no symptoms. Adenoviruses cause illnesses like bladder infections, diarrhea, pneumonia, bronchitis, pinkeye, colds, encephalitis, sore throat, and meningitis. Signs and symptoms of an adenovirus infection depend on the type of virus causing the infection. Treatment focuses on supportive care. A vaccine against adenovirus type 4 and 7 is available only to U.S. military personnel.
An allergy refers to a misguided reaction by our immune system in response to bodily contact with certain foreign substances. When these allergens come in contact with the body, it causes the immune system to develop an allergic reaction in people who are allergic to it. It is estimated that 50 million North Americans are affected by allergic conditions. The parts of the body that are prone to react to allergies include the eyes, nose, lungs, skin, and stomach. Common allergic disorders include hay fever, asthma, allergic eyes, allergic eczema, hives, and allergic shock.
Cold vs. Flu
Though the common cold and flu share many signs and symptoms, they are caused by different viruses. Signs and symptoms include sneezing, sore throat, runny nose, fatigue, and cough. Treatment options for the cold and flu are similar and focus on reducing symptoms. Doctors may prescribe antivirals/neuraminidase inhibitors for the flu.
Cold, Flu, Allergy Treatments
Before treating a cold, the flu, or allergies with over-the-counter (OTC) medications, it's important to know what's causing the symptoms, which symptoms one wishes to relieve, and the active ingredients in the OTC product. Taking products that only contain the medications needed for relieving your symptoms prevents ingestion of unnecessary medications and reduces the chances of side effects.
The common cold (viral upper respiratory tract infection) is a contagious illness that may be caused by various viruses. Symptoms include a stuffy nose, headache, cough, sore throat, and maybe a fever. Antibiotics have no effect upon the common cold, and there is no evidence that zinc and vitamin C are effective treatments.
Influenza (flu) is a respiratory illness caused by a virus. Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, headache, fatigue, and muscle aches. The flu may be prevented with an annual influenza vaccination.
Hay Fever (Allergic Rhinitis)
Hay fever (allergic rhinitis) is an irritation of the nose caused by pollen and is associated with the following allergic symptoms: nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing, eye and nose itching, and tearing eyes. Avoidance of known allergens is the recommended treatment, but if this is not possible, antihistamines, decongestants, and nasal sprays may help alleviate symptoms.
How Long Is a Cold or Flu Contagious?
Viruses cause the common cold and the flu. Early symptoms and signs for a cold and the flu are similar, however, flu symptoms are typically more severe than cold symptoms. Cold and flu viruses are transmitted typically via coughing or sneezing.
Is Croup Contagious?
Croup is a viral infection that typically affects children and causes inflammation of the larynx and trachea. The cough associated with croup sounds like a barking dog or seal. Croup usually lasts for about a week.
Is Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) Contagious?
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a contagious viral infection that causes symptoms such as decreased appetite, runny nose, sneezing, coughing, and mild fever. The incubation period is four to six days, and the contagious period ends after the symptoms disappear.
Is Swine Flu (H1N1) Contagious?
Swine flu (H1N1) is a contagious virus that spreads when an infected individual expels virus-containing droplets into the air during coughing or sneezing. Symptoms include sore throat, runny nose, fever, cough, chills, headache, fatigue, and possible vomiting and/or diarrhea. An H1N1 infection typically lasts for about a week.
Pregnancy: Swine Flu and the H1N1 Vaccine
Pregnant and women who are breastfeeding are encouraged to receive the seasonal flu shot as well as the 2009 H1N1 influenza (swine flu) vaccine. H1N1 flu is treated with the medications Tamiflu® (oseltamivir) or Relenza® (zanamivir). Pregnant women should not receive the H1N1 attenuated nasal spray vaccine. Possible side effects of the H1N1 flu vaccine include muscle aches, fever, nausea, tiredness, or headache.
Novel H1N1 influenza A virus infection (swine flu) is an infection that generally is transferred from an infected pig to a human, however there have been reported cases where infection has occured with no contact with infected pigs. Symptoms of swine flu are "flu-like" and include fever, cough, and sore throat. Treatment is generally with the antibiotics oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza).
Examples of Medications for Sneezing
- cetirizine (Zyrtec, Zyrtec Allergy, Zyrtec Hives)
- diphenhydramine, Benadryl
- fexofenadine (Allegra, Mucinex Allergy)
- fexofenadine and pseudoephedrine (Allegra-D)
- loratadine and pseudoephedrine (Alavert Allergy & Sinus, Claritin-D, Claritin-D 24 hour)
- loratadine, Claritin, Claritin RediTabs, Alavert, Claritin Hives Relief, Children's Claritin
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