Why Do We Sneeze?

Why do we sneeze?. Valentine/Getty Images

Sneezing goes along with colds, allergies and many other respiratory illnesses. It's a common symptom, but why does it happen? Do you know why you sneeze?

Sneezing is one way that the body is clearing out the nasal passages. If something is irritating the lining of your nose, you may sneeze as a way to clear out the irritant. If you are dealing with allergies, sneezing may occur because your body is reacting to an allergen.

Pollen, dust and other environmental allergens create a response in people with allergies that cause itching, sneezing, watery eyes and other allergy symptoms. All of these occur because the body identifies these irritants as a type of "invasion" and it reacts in ways to try to stop the attack.

What You Can Do

Although there is nothing you can do to prevent or stop sneezing as it is happening, there may be things you can do to reduce the frequency.

Sneezing Caused by Allergies

If your symptoms are caused by an allergic reaction, you will need to take steps to reduce your exposure to the allergens. Some people only have allergy symptoms like sneezing during pollen season (typically Spring and Fall) while others may have symptoms nearly year round. It depends on what you are allergic to and how often you are exposed to the allergens.

Things you can do to reduce your common allergy symptoms include:

  • Changing furnace filters frequently
  • Washing linens in hot water to kill dust mites
  • Take over the counter antihistamines (like Zyrtec, Claritin or Allegra) or allergy nasal sprays (like Nasacort AQ)
  • Avoid keeping pets in the home if you are allergic to pet dander

If you find that you are sneezing or experiencing other allergy symptoms very frequently despite home treatments, you may need to see an allergist.

These specialized doctors can perform tests to determine what your allergy triggers are and give you more treatment options - including prescription medications or allergy injections.

Sneezing Caused by Illness

If your sneezing is caused by an illness such as the cold or other respiratory infection, it will stop when the illness has run its course. Blowing your nose to clear out irritants may help reduce the frequency of sneezing.

Antihistamines are typically not effective when you have a respiratory infection. They work to counteract allergic reactions but not viral illnesses.

If you feel like you are sneezing very frequently and don't believe it is caused by irritants in the environment or an illness or you are having trouble getting relief, contact your health care provider. She can discuss your situation with you and try to help you get relief.


"Sneezing". MedlinePlus 08 Sep 14. US National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health. 23 Sep 14.

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