Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sunlight is not always the best disinfectant

There's an interesting article in today's New Scientist, explaining 'Why some people sneeze when the sun comes out'. I found it particularly interesting, because I am one of these "photic sneezers", and always have been. Going from a dark house or porch directly into bright sunlight will often cause me to burst into sneezes - it always caused great hilarity among my friends when we took holidays in Las Vegas.

I had always vaguely thought that the reason was that the bright light passing through the optic nerve somehow "got too close" to whatever the nerve was that caused the sneeze reaction, and that still seems like the most plausible explanation, though this article puts it more intelligently. Though they say that it's genetic, I don't recall anyone else in my family who does exactly this, though I was intrigued by the possibility of a connection between this little neurological scramble and more serious conditions. Emma has epilepsy, and one of my aunts is bothered a lot by migraines - perhaps these different problems do stem from some genetic defect, which has cropped up in different forms.

At the end, there are a few questions and points to help establish if one is a photic sneezer or not. I was interested by this:
Photic sneezers almost always sneeze a set, unchanging number of times on exposure to light: most commonly just once, but sometimes twice or more.
It's quite true, I DO almost always sneeze the same number of times. But in my case, it's not once or twice, but a whopping EIGHT sneezes in a row!

I was also relieved to read that it's NOT true that if you keep your eyes open during a sneeze, your eyeballs will blow out. I heard that as a kid - I believe it was on Hollywood Squares - and could never shake the superstitious fear that it MIGHT be true.


Blogger Priscilla said...

I can't believe it. I have always sneezed this way. My mother told me I have always done that since I was in my pram. I always sneeze 7 times. Mu class would always count and when I taught my students would always count! I even had a fellow teacher write a poem about my sneezes. When I have a cold, I only sneeze once or twice. I'm going to read the whole article tomorrow. I'm tired and going to bed now. We were at the Portland Tax Party, this evening. It was fantastic. 6 or 7 thousand (depending which news station you believe) people who have had it with Washington.
Yhanks for the research. Cheers

2:03 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've never noticed any pattern in my sneezing which I would attribute to light stimuli, but I've found that when I "need" to sneeze but can't quite produce, looking directly toward the sun or artificial lighting will usually bring a sneeze to fruition.

9:02 am  
Blogger Dr. Mabuse said...

They do mention that in the article, making oneself sneeze by looking at bright light - I've never done that because I don't really like sneezing much, and my impulse is to suppress it, if I can.

Priscilla, you should fill out the questionnaire - a professor is collecting information from photic sneezers, and it would be interesting to see if us "7+" sneezers are a small subset!

10:19 am  
Blogger Andrea said...

I do it too, though not all the time. Maybe it's because I've lived all my life in Florida, and all the sun exposure has lessened my sensitivity.

12:29 am  
Anonymous Ed the Roman said...

I've done ten.

8:17 pm  

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