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Causes, Possible Conditions, Questions & Related Topics

Key Points

  • Sneezing can be caused by a variety of triggers, including irritants like smoke, dust, and debris, substances like pepper, cold air, pain, certain medicines, certain smells, foods, emotional reactions, and bright lights.
  • Various health conditions can also cause sneezing, such as allergies, viral infections like colds or flu, sinusitis, injuries to the nose, and withdrawal syndromes, particularly opioid withdrawal.
  • The article provides a list of questions your doctor may ask to help diagnose the cause of your sneezing.

Top 5 Causes of Sneezing

1. Irritants

Sometimes, we sneeze because of a single event that causes our noses to become itchy or irritated. If you breathe in smoke, dust, or debris, you might sneeze simply so your nose can clear out the items irritating it.[1] You might also sneeze if you breathe in something like pepper while cooking. Almost anything can irritate your nose; if too much of it gets inside your nasal passageway, you sneeze.

2. Cold Air

Sometimes, while braving the cold on a walk to school, you might have felt as if you were coming down with an illness. As soon as you were warm inside, the feeling went away. Sometimes, cold air can irritate our noses, causing us to sneeze. Usually, it is isn’t a sign of an oncoming illness unless it doesn’t go away.

3. Pain

In some cases, pain can cause you to sneeze. For instance, if you pluck your eyebrows, you might sneeze.[4] This could seem like a personal reaction, and many believe they are the only ones who experience it. However, when you pluck your eyebrows or do something similar to your face, you stimulate nerves and cause your body to think something is irritating you. You might sneeze or even start to tear up as a result.

4. Medicines

Certain medicines, such as corticosteroids in nasal sprays, can cause you to sneeze.[4] If you sneeze after using nasal sprays like these, it’s probably a sign that your body simply reacts this way to this particular drug. Usually, it’s nothing to worry about, and if you want to keep using this medication, you can, especially if the sneezing is not severe.

5. Other Triggers

Some people sneeze for the strangest reasons. Something that wouldn’t be likely to irritate someone else’s nose, such as smells, foods, a type of makeup, an emotional reaction, or even a bright light, could cause another person to sneeze.[4] In these cases, it usually doesn’t cause a sneezing fit, and the issue is mild. Still, it can be interesting to see which little things cause people to sneeze.

Possible Health Conditions Related to Sneezing

1. Allergies

Allergies are one of the most common health conditions associated with sneezing.[1] Most people who have allergies are allergic to specific allergens, such as pollen, dust, animal or pet dander, a food item, or many other things, and they know about it before they reach adulthood. However, it is possible to develop an allergy later in life. If you are allergic to a specific item, your body treats it as a threat and reacts as it would to other threats, such as bacteria or a virus. When the body detects a threat in the nasal passages, it sneezes. Allergies can come and go on their own, but most last for a long time and require maintenance on your part with medicines to keep them from causing severe reactions.

2. Virus

A viral infection that causes a cold or the flu could often be the culprit behind repeated sneezing.[2] During a cold, excess mucus blocks your sinuses, and your body knows there is something inside it that shouldn’t be there. As a result, you sneeze repeatedly. This symptom generally subsides in a week or two; anything that lasts longer is likely another issue, such as sinusitis.

3. Sinusitis

Sinusitis, or a sinus infection, usually occurs after the main symptoms of a cold or flu go away, but the sinuses remain inflamed.[5] Acute sinusitis can last for about four weeks, which is much longer than the usual common cold. There are also longer-lasting versions of sinusitis, such as subacute and chronic sinusitis and recurrent sinusitis, which can occur on and off over time. If you have had the symptoms of a cold for a long period of time, it might be necessary to check with your doctor and see if you need treatment for a sinus infection.

4. Injury

Although it isn’t terribly common, a person who sustains an injury to the nose could possibly start sneezing as a result of their injury.[1] Other signs of a nasal injury include pain, swelling, and tenderness of the nose. If the sneezing causes you pain, it is probably a good idea to seek help from your doctor and to find out if there is a way to minimize this reaction. If you have been injured, your nose needs time to heal, and sneezing often makes that more difficult.

5. Withdrawal

Different types of withdrawal syndromes cause different side effects. One of the most common types of withdrawal in our current culture is opioid withdrawal. This can create a number of intense side effects that feel similar to the flu, including chills and shivering, insomnia, anxiety, congestion, yawning, sneezing, sweating, nausea, diarrhea, and cramps.[6]

It can be hard to tell opioid withdrawal from the flu, but if you suffer from withdrawal, flu medicines don’t help the syndrome, and your pupils become dilated and you experience intense body aches, muscle pain, and joint and bone pain. Withdrawal usually lasts about a week or two, but it can require medical treatment, especially for those who are severely addicted to opioids.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Your Sneezing

  • How long have you been dealing with sneezing?
  • Do you sneeze once or have sneezing fits?
  • Does anything trigger your sneezing?
  • Were you ill recently with a cold or the flu?
  • Do you take any medications that might cause sneezing?
  • Are you or were you taking opioid painkillers?

Sneezing May Also Be Known as

  • Sneeze
  • Sternutation

Frequently asked questions

  • What are some common triggers of sneezing?

    Common triggers of sneezing include irritants like smoke, dust, and debris, substances like pepper, cold air, pain, certain medicines, certain smells, foods, emotional reactions, and bright lights.
  • What health conditions can cause sneezing?

    Health conditions that can cause sneezing include allergies, viral infections like colds or flu, sinusitis, injuries to the nose, and withdrawal syndromes, particularly opioid withdrawal.
  • Can certain medicines cause sneezing?

    Yes, certain medicines, such as corticosteroids in nasal sprays, can induce sneezing.
  • Can emotional reactions trigger sneezing?

    Yes, emotional reactions can indeed trigger sneezing.
  • Can cold air cause sneezing?

    Yes, exposure to cold air can cause sneezing.
  • Can pain cause sneezing?

    Yes, certain types of pain, such as that experienced when plucking eyebrows, can trigger sneezing.
  • Can certain foods and smells trigger sneezing?

    Yes, certain foods and smells can indeed trigger a sneezing reaction.
  • What might a doctor ask to diagnose the cause of my sneezing?

    A doctor may ask about your exposure to potential irritants, your use of certain medications, your history of allergies or other health conditions, and any other factors that might help identify the cause of your sneezing.

Solv has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

Related Health Concerns

Allergic Asthma


Allergy Test




Asthma Test

Bee sting

Canker Sore


Ear Infection

Eosinophilic Esophagitis

Food Allergies

Itchy Eyes

Itchy Skin




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