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Why Does the Sun Make Some People Sneeze?

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Sun sneezing is a phenomenon affecting about a quarter of the population – but why? Mass. Eye and Ear sinus specialist Dr. Benjamin Bleier explains.

When you walk outside on a bright, sunny day, do you sneeze? When you look at a bright light, do you feel a tingle in your nose?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, you might be a “sun sneezer.”

Officially known as photic sneeze reflex, sun sneezing is a condition that triggers a sneeze when people are exposed to bright lights. It affects an estimated 18 to 35 percent of the population. It is more prevalent in females, who represent 67 percent of sun sneezers, and Caucasians, who represent 94 percent.

It’s also thought to be a genetic condition, as it often occurs within families. While the genetic basis for sun sneezing is unclear, it has been suggested that it is inherited as an autosomal-dominant trait, meaning you need only one mutated gene, i.e. one parent, to be affected by this disorder.

“The number of induced sneezes seems to be genetically mediated and can be predicted within a family,” said Benjamin S. Bleier, MD, FACS, a sinus surgeon at Mass. Eye and Ear.

Photo sneeze reflex, or “sun sneezing,” is thought to be a genetic condition, as it often occurs within families.

Sun sneezing origins

Sun sneezing has been documented for many centuries. In fact, the Greek philosopher Aristotle was one of the first to explore its occurrence in 350 BCE and hypothesized that the sun warmed the inside of the nose, generating a sneeze.

English philosopher Francis Bacon disproved this theory in the 17th century by noting that facing the sun with closed eyes did not elicit a sneeze response. “Bacon thought that the eyes may actually play an important role in photic sneeze reflex instead,” Dr. Bleier said.

In recent studies, it’s been shown that the reflex seems to be caused by a change in light intensity rather than by a specific type of light. This is why bright lights, camera flashes and even the brightness from snow can sometimes cause a sneezing sensation.

Still, the exact mechanism of the photic sneeze reflex is not clear. The most common explanation can be traced to Dr. Henry Everett who, in 1964, proposed that the effect resulted from a confusion of nerve signals in the brain.

“When your eyes are exposed to bright light, the parasympathetic nervous system, or the rest and digest response, causes the pupils to constrict to protect the eyes from light damage,” said Dr. Bleier. “This effect may indirectly activate other parts of your rest and digest response, including those that control mucus secretion and the sneeze response in your nose.”

Should sun sneezers be concerned?

The good news is that sun sneezing is not harmful. It’s usually more of an annoyance than a risk. Some people actually like that it “helps get their sneeze out.”

It’s even been renamed as the more humorous ‘ACHOO’ (autosomal dominant compulsive helio-ophthalmic outbursts of sneezing) syndrome.

However, it may pose a problem to drivers or pilots when transitioning from dim surroundings into full sunlight. Those who have photic sneeze reflex should shield their eyes and/or faces with hats, scarves or sunglasses, and avoid looking directly at light when they can help it.

“There may still be more to understand about sun sneezing, but it is definitely an interesting occurrence,” said Dr. Bleier. “Those who sneeze in light should ask their family members if they do this as well – you might be surprised by what you learn!”

About our expert

Dr. Benjamin Bleier specializes in complex sinus and endoscopic skull base surgery. He sees patients at the main campus of Mass. Eye and Ear.






  1. Koichi Tsunoda

    I remember when I was jeunior highschool student. Sometimes I felt to try to sneeze but could not. That time my friend suggested me to look at the sun or light, it mekes me seeze easily. Now I recognized it was true. Also remember the movie “My step mother is an Alian” Sterling movie star Kim Basinger ( She is an beautiful Alian) recognized the sneeze was confortable, then she decided to stay on earth.

    • Suzanne Day

      Thanks for reading, Koichi! Sounds like you are a sun sneezer. 🙂

  2. Chip R

    I once heard that it was a trait that prompted newborn babies to sneeze once they were exposed to light in order to clear their passages. Sounded plausible at the time (of course, it wouldn’t help those babies who are born in the dark.)

  3. Lisa C

    This was such an interesting topic! My son has OCA1 albinism (albino) and every time he goes outside on a sunny or overcast day, he will sneeze. We make a joke of it now that he is older. Once he gets that first sneeze out, he is fine.

  4. Anna Franz

    i am sun sneezer from my really early childhood. now im 30 and its still same, at some point i dont need sun to sneeze. if someone will text on my phone at the middle of the night, and ill check it even with minimum brightness, yes, ill sneeze. any change from dark to light targeting sneezing xD


    Well, Personally when I want to sneeze but I still need a little bit of tingling to sneeze I looked up to the sun and it complete.

  6. Samir

    I’m a sun sneezer and my father was as well. I usually sneeze in a set of 2, rarely 3 and then I’m done sun sneezing for the day unless something isn’t right with my body and I might sneeze many more sets of 2 in the day.

    Over the years, I’ve experimented with the type of light, where sometimes bright sunlight will not illicit the response but if I squint to change the wavelengths entering my eye, it activates. I have on a few occasions seen my phone activate it, but rarely. I believe there is a response to either ultraviolet or infrared light or something else in the invisible spectrum. It would be interesting to have a study on these wavelengths and it might be the root cause when combined with the genetic component.

    • Ryan Jaslow

      Thanks for reading and sharing your experience, Samir. I agree some more research on this topic would be fascinating to see!