Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Greetings and sternutations

As you may have seen on my résumé, I have an overly sensitive trigeminal nerve.

I have the genetic condition called the photic sneeze reflex (PSR), also cleverly called the ACHOO (autosomal-dominant compulsive helio-ophthalmic outbursts) syndrome. Apparently this is a fairly common condition, but no one I have ever met has such extreme symptoms as I do.

Ever since I was little, I have sneezed every time I go outside into the sun. My mom is the same way, so I have always suspected that this was a genetic issue. Now this is not a problem for me, and in fact, I actually like the sensation of sneezing (though not as much as some urban legends might indicate). The one downfall is if I get a sneezing attack when I am driving; sometimes if I go around a curve and can suddenly see the sun, or if the sun comes out from behind a cloud, I go into a sneezing fit, which is not the safest way to drive. Fortunately the attack does not last very long.

One major benefit of the photic sneeze reflex is that whenever I get that starting tickle of a sneeze, I can just look at a light and the sneeze will come to fruition. (I hate the non-sneeze that just leaves you hanging.) The light source does not even have to be the sun -- any lamp or ceiling light will do.

Growing up, and all through school, I would sneeze three (3) times whenever I went outside after being inside for a while. My friend Kathy was so accustomed to it that she would pre-emptively bless me. We would walk out of the store, and Kathy would say, "Bless you, bless you, bless you," and then I would sneeze three times.

But I think my photic sneeze reflex is getting stronger. I now regularly sneeze five (5) times instead of three. And today on my way out of work, I sneezed seven (7!) times. And it was cloudy.

I may try to build a device to harness the energy emitted from my face and then use it to power my iPod.


At 3:51 PM, Blogger constant_k posited...

I laughed when I read the part about your sneeze attacks while driving.

All this talk about wangthedogner's T-Zone has me thinking about the nose tampons story.

At 6:14 PM, Blogger Carson posited...

I always used to think the worst thing in the world was going to a matinee movie and coming out of the theater into a still sunny sky.

When you come out of the theater, it should be dark.

I now know that the only thing worse would be coming out of a theater into the bright daylight and sneezing seven times.

When you sneeze so often... do you ever get the feeling that tiny pieces of your brain are slowly evacuating?

At 6:25 PM, Anonymous Your Mom posited...

I know you told me about this blog topic on Sunday, but I had no idea it would make me laugh (not sneeze) so much! If, indeed, you have inherited this sneeze reflex from me, rest assured, it will diminish with age!

At 8:33 PM, Blogger CoachDub posited...

If I thought driving was bad, I also read that the photic sneeze reflex can prevent someone from being a fighter pilot.

At 1:02 AM, Blogger Sherlock posited...

Dude, I've gotta get those nose tampons.
you know i'm really lookin' forward to those

At 4:19 AM, Anonymous Christina posited...

I have never heard of this phenomenon but I must have some form of it. I don't sneeze everytime I go outside but I do have frequent sneezing fits often when I go from outside to inside. Hmmmm....

At 10:40 AM, Anonymous Kathy posited...

I'm so glad I got the 3 sneeze era. No way would you get 7 preemptive blessings!

At 10:44 AM, Blogger Pelk posited...

Is the trigeminal nerve removable? I had a pretty sensitive large intestine, but I didn't think you could just get rid of it. Now I'm cured and colonless. Who knows, maybe there is some surgeon in Russia who removes the trigeminal nerve at a bargain rate.

At 1:46 PM, Blogger Houley posited...

Whenever I'm hanging on a sneeze, I stare into light to force it out. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

The worst thing is when I'm calling people at work and I feel a sneeze coming on. I don't want to stop right where I am and give them a chance to hang up, so instead I try to finish the prompt I'm reading before I sneeze. More often than not, however, this results in a very awkward sneeze right in the middle of a word.

At 2:07 AM, Blogger hannah posited...

i have tmj it means my jaw likes to go where it wants sometimes and i have to force it back into place and shut and then it hurts alot.

oh and sometimes when i would work with bill at the gas station he would almost sneeze and then yell out "WHERES THE LIGHT I GOTTA LOOK AT A LIGHT" but i thought it was just bill being the way he was y'know.

At 10:22 PM, Blogger Serenity Now! posited...

Whoa! It's actually a condition? All my kids do the same thing when they go out into the sun after being indoors or even if they've just come out of the car. My mom thinks it's hilarious that they all do it. I just figured it was something they would grow out of. Thanks for enlightening me.

At 8:40 AM, Anonymous Martin posited...

You might like to know that there is a site made by others who wanted to find out more about their over-active trigeminal nerve. A group of European photic sneezers got together when the internet came of age and exchanged information about the subject. It may seem banal now, but only ten years ago, most of us had never met anyone else outside their own family, who had the reflex. So a resource page was put together.

The reflex certainly runs in our family, so I drew the same conclusion as you did: that it is a genetic issue. My grandfather had it, my father and brother have it, and I have it too. We have stories of near-misses when driving – coming out of a tunnel, driving from shade to sun, or my own horror, sun reflected off the snow in winter or off a wet road after a storm.

What particularly interested me about your posting was the question of whether the reflex gets stronger with age (your experience) or weaker (your mother’s). It’s something that those of us who put the site together used to talk about, and it seems that no serious study has ever been done on it. From our various families’ experience though, it seems that the reflex does often change in intensity over time. It seems more common for the reflex to get weaker rather than stronger. My father says that the sunshine sets him off far less now than when he was a boy. My brother is also less affected by it as an adult than as a kid. But I don’t think it has lessened with me since childhood. The number of sneezes varies a lot from one time to another (sun off snow is the real killer for me) but quite often it’s just a couple. My grandfather also lived to a ripe old age with a very active reflex too. So it seems to depend on the individual. But we must do an update of the site to see if we can’t find out more about this.

At 2:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous posited...

My dad was a sun sneezer, I am a bright-light/sun sneezer, and now my son also sneezes at the sun. The number of sneezes has also increased for me as I have aged -- usually six or seven times now.


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