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Definition

A sneeze is a sudden, forceful, uncontrolled burst of air through the nose and mouth.

Alternative Names

Sternutation; Allergy - sneezing; Hay fever - sneezing; Flu - sneezing; Cold - sneezing; Dust - sneezing

Causes

Sneezing is caused by irritation to the mucous membranes of the nose or throat. It can be very bothersome, but is rarely a sign of a serious problem.

Sneezing can be due to:

  • Allergy to pollen (hay fever), mold, dander, dust
  • Breathing in corticosteroids or other medicines (from certain nose sprays)
  • Common cold or the flu
  • Drug withdrawal
  • Triggers such as dust, air pollution, dry air, spicy foods, strong emotions, certain medicines, and powders

Home Care

Avoiding exposure to the allergen is the best way to control sneezing caused by allergies. An allergen is something that causes an allergic reaction.

Tips to reduce your exposure:

  • Change furnace filters
  • Remove pets from the home to get rid of animal dander
  • Use air filters to reduce pollen in the air
  • Wash linens in hot water (at least 130°F or 54°C) to kill dust mites

In some cases, you may need to move out of a home with a mold spore problem.

Sneezing that is not due to an allergy will disappear when the illness that is causing it is cured or treated.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Contact your health care provider if sneezing is affecting your life and home remedies do not work.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your provider will perform a physical exam and look at your nose and throat. You'll be asked about your medical history and symptoms.

Question topics may include:

  • When the sneezing started
  • Whether you have other symptoms
  • If you have allergies

In some cases, allergy testing may be needed to find the cause.

Your provider will suggest treatments and lifestyle changes for hay fever symptoms.

Gallery

Sinuses
The sinuses are hollow cavities within the facial bones. Sinuses are not fully developed until after age 12. When people speak of sinus infections, they are most frequently referring to the maxillary and ethmoid sinuses.

References

Cohen YZ. The common cold. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 58.

Corren J, Baroody FM, Togias A. Allergic and nonallergic rhinitis. In: Burks AW, Holgate ST, O'Hehir RE, et al, eds. Middleton's Allergy Principles and Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 40.

Eccles R. The nose and control of nasal airflow. In: Burks AW, Holgate ST, O'Hehir RE, et al, eds. Middleton's Allergy Principles and Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 39.

Last reviewed April 17, 2022 by Stuart I. Henochowicz, MD, FACP, Clinical Professor of Medicine, Division of Allergy, Immunology, and Rheumatology, Georgetown University Medical School, Washington, DC. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team..

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