Why Do I Sneeze in the Cold?
With cold weather upon us, this seemed a good time to address yet another question from the grab bag. I’ve written once before about the mystery that is the sneeze reflex, specifically why it seems to appear with exercise. Today’s question is surprisingly common as well: Why do we sneeze when it’s cold outside?
The short answer: we don’t. At least not everyone. Some people seem to be more sensitive to temperature swings in the face than others, just as some people respond powerfully to changes in ambient light.
The commonality in all such responses is the influence of the trigeminal nerve, a multi-tasking facial nerve that serves several functions of sensation and motor control. When external conditions change rapidly, this nerve can become overstimulated, leading to upstream confusion in our brain’s lateral medulla. The result is a gathering storm that quickly becomes a sneeze.
The New York Times adds this interesting laundry list of other causes:
Many other conditions besides rhinitis can produce a sneeze, including sudden exposure to bright light (called the photic response); a particularly full stomach (the satiation response); central nervous system diseases like epilepsy; and sexual excitement or orgasm.
Today’s word of the day is snatiation, the phenomonen of sneezing when you’re feeling full.